I interrupt my series on debunking common church/state separation myths with some ideas sparked by a recent DVAU tabling event. I’ll continue the series on debunking myths next week.
Board member (and my wife) Ellen Greenfield, along with Janice Rael (DVAU VP), and myself hosted an exhibitor’s table at the 8th Annual Pennsylvania Women’s Conference on Tuesday October 25th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The event provided DVAU an opportunity for some quality exposure to a thinking group of people. To my surprise, however, we met people – too many people – who hadn’t heard of Americans United and didn’t know a local group existed that focused on church/state separation issues. They had heard of the ACLU, which shares many of our concerns, but they didn’t know there was a group focused exclusively on church/state issues. In fact, Americans United is the only national organization that devotes 100% of its time and resources to church/state separation issues.
Why this concerns me is that when a potential 1st Amendment violation occurs many people don’t know who to turn to for advice. So in frustration, they probably shrug-off their concern about the violation which is clearly not a good thing to do. If it wasn’t for a vigilant citizenry, willing to call attention to violations, many breaches of the wall of church/state separation would go unchallenged. We can only imagine what would be taking place in the Dover, PA school district if vigilant parents hadn’t acted. And I could run-off a litany of other examples of attentive citizens putting the stopper on abominable unconstitutional activities all across the country.
One challenge with getting exposure for our group is that church/state separation issues are typically low amplitude – low frequency sort of events that are over-watted in the news cycle by high amplitude – high frequency events dominating the news. Sadly, separation issues don’t receive a lot of attention until it’s too late and the offenders already have their foot across the constitutional line. With more people aware of our presence and aware of what constitutes a violation, AU would be better positioned to take up the cause in a timely fashion. The fact that people haven’t heard of AU and the Delaware Valley Chapter suggests that we haven’t been doing a good enough job informing the public of our existence and this is where we could use some help.
A good place to start is our website, dvau.org, which lists our activities including monthly meetings (which include some excellent speakers), debates, fundraisers, etc. We also give presentations on a wide range of church/state topics which are outlined on our website Also, we’ve found that debates are excellent vehicles for drawing attention to issues and drawing crowds. Recently, we’ve had two debates with the religious right and we’ve been involved in debates concerning NJ and PA vouchers. So if you know of an organization (church, civic group, etc.) that may be interested let us know. You could also pass the word on to friends and relatives about our existence – you never know who may be interested in becoming involved or who may know of an issue needing attention.
The Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United is made up of a group of committed and knowledgeable activists and educators only too willing to stand up for our constitutional rights of maintaining a healthy separation between the religious and the secular. But we can’t do it alone. We need help in spreading the word.