The news came in an envelope from Americans United for Separation of Church and State: "The Religious Right wants to change the way you live in Troy." While I only work in Troy, this was still cause for concern. Inside, however, Barry W. Lynn, the AUSCS Executive Director, had no concrete evidence of a fundamentalist power grab in the Collar City, apart from the assertion that "the Religious Right is now targeting your neighborhood, and every town and city in America." Lynn charges that the RR is "joining local school boards and local communities...winning local elections...and creating local precedents with NATIONWIDE consequences." On the basis of generalization, then, Lynn saw the need to warn me...and ask me for money.
To clarify: according to Lynn, the specific threat comes from an entity that has "hijacked Christianity and claims to speak for all people of faith," but is really interested in "forc[ing] their ultraconservative agenda on you and your community." This agenda, also known as its "ideology-based social agenda," boils down to interpreting the Christian message differently from Barry Lynn. His interpretation is probably the more palatable one, but whether it is more true is either beyond my power to determine or completely irrelevant. Fortunately, Lynn's main concern is to defend the Jeffersonian "wall of separation" against the Religous Right assault. Those people want to "force you to live a 'moral' life," Lynn scarequotes, "Based on their morals!" Of course, any democratic election is on some level an attempt to force others to live according to a particular moral code, but let's grant the premise that the moral code of the Religious Right is undesirable for adoption by the entire nation. What will Americans United do about it if the RR wins elections or otherwise acquires power to impose their morals. Like Chico Marx in Go West, Lynn's answer is: sue 'em!
My hoped-for donation to Americans United will help subsidize a "Rapid Response team" of "the best church-state lawyers in the nation" to practice "pre-litigation advocacy" and litigate aggressively against prison ministries, intelligent-design instruction in classrooms, and so on. My money would also pay for a Communications Department dedicated to getting Barry Lynn and his lieutenants on TV and radio. His mailing includes a "Media Log" of their appearances over a recent six-month period; it looks a little like boasting to me. Also in need of funds is his Field Department, which "organizes citizens and activists across the country" who are apparently incapable of organizing themselves. Finally, a donation will also bring me twelve monthly issues of Church & State, the Americans United journal. That's actually appealing, but $25 for a 24-page magazine seems a little pricey these days. But wouldn't I be supporting a sympathetic lobby in the bargain? Perhaps, but something's not quite right when the lobby tells me I need to call on them to fight my theoretical local battle with the Religious Right. Some people might feel fortified by the notion that a prominent national lobby led by a man they may have seen on television would be backing them up, but I still hold out the hope that local freethinkers are capable of organizing resistance on their own without help from Separation Central. Would they really be freethinkers otherwise?