Introduction

HOW I GOT INTO FIGHTING
THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT

I

was sitting at the Values Voter Summit, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, and a panoply of other far-right organizations, in the fall of 2014. Speakers kept exclaiming that they wanted to “take
our country back.” Right. But to where: the sixteenth century?
Voter apathy and a trending toward Republican conservatives in key Senate
races was on the minds of the sponsors and, in fact, they were victorious on Election Day 2014, flipping the Senate to Republican control and placing any “legacy”
of Barack Obama in serious jeopardy. Is this a temporary setback for progressive
secularists or a bona fide statement that we are returning to a past time when
religious minorities and nontheists are at risk of losing gains made over the past
quarter century? The good news: I think it is the former. The bad news: If we
“secularists” don’t get our act together, it could turn out that everything is lost.
This book is a collection of columns, testimony, speeches, and other writings that I’ve done over the past twenty-five years of “in-trench” engagement for
the preservation of the separation of church and state. In addition, it seeks to
update the issues I’ve written about over those decades and show where we have
made progress, where we have lost ground, and where we are treading water. It
is not a textbook or legal treatise. It is also not a comprehensive history of First
Amendment matters over the past twenty-five years. It is selective and personal
and, I think, quite funny at times.
I first became aware of the problems of separation of church and state in
college when I asked one of my roommates how he was going to spend spring
break. He said he and his girlfriend would be flying to London. Why? To get a
safe and legal abortion. This was in 1967—pre Roe v.Wade and pre-New York
State’s loosening of abortion restrictions. I was flabbergasted that so many
“liberal” states at that time barred reproductive choice.
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8  INTRODUCTION

The more I looked into it, the clearer it became that the Roman Catholic
Church had an inordinate amount of clout when it came to writing the laws,
even in places like Massachusetts and New York. The Church was successfully
turning its theological views into the basis for state law, restricting reproductive options, passing anti-LGBT bills, censoring books, films, and even comedy
routines. (Lenny Bruce was convicted of obscenity in the city of New York in
1968.)
As a person who opposed the Vietnam War, marched with Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. and otherwise considered myself a “liberal,” I couldn’t believe
that the power of religious groups was so great and that I knew so little about it.
Well, I learned my lesson and became a staunch church/state separationist.
After failing my Army physical, I decided to go to seminary at Boston University
rather than to law school. The clergy at that time seemed thoroughly engaged in
issues of social justice, but the legal profession (except for the National Lawyers’
Guild and the ACLU) seemed to have little interest in such matters.
After spending time working on the First Amendment for the United
Church of Christ’s Washington office and later for the ACLU—and after a disturbing and debilitating few years dealing with our son’s cancer—my wife and I
decided to leave Washington and its rats racing and move to Dartmouth College
in New Hampshire. This turned out to be a fiasco for me, and I let the legislative
director at Americans United know how unhappy I was. She told me that the AU
Board had been seeking a new director and that the candidate they had chosen
had unexpectedly decided not to move and take the job. She offered to let the
search committee know I was willing to consider a move back to DC.
The rest is history.
This book is set in two typefaces. The first Perpetua, a serif font, is the “all-new
connective tissue” that updates issues and ideas. The second, Futura, a sans serif
font, includes previously published or spoken materials I have used. The political and social landscape of church-state separation is always changing. Even as
I write this, the Supreme Court is in the process of listening to oral arguments
and deciding upon the status of a case regarding same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, I will not be able to include the result of the case, and any subsequent
actions, as all work on this book was completed in April 2015.

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