Group aims to educate about keeping church, state separate

Feb. 12, 2014 @ 05:28 PM

Last year two state legislators from Rowan County submitted a resolution calling for a state religion, which contradicts the U.S. Bill of Rights. The resolution was dismissed, but it was enough for a retired clergyman to take action.

The Rev. Rollin Russell, a retired United Church of Christ minister, has started up an Orange-Durham Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Russell said that although the state religion proposal “never saw the light of day in North Carolina, it showed some contrary education in North Carolina needed to be done.”
Russell was a minister in the UCC’s Southern conference for 17 years and on the faculty of Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He now lives in Hillsborough, where members of the new chapter’s steering committee met this week and talked about their plans.
Edmund Tiryakian is a graduate of Duke University School of Law and studied constitutional law. The First Amendment is a critical part, he said.
“I’ve been concerned for some time about the breach of the revered separation of church and state, to the detriment of the country,” said Tiryakian, who described himself as a lapsed Catholic.
Jesse Kaufmann became involved when she realized how fragile things were, she said. She is Jewish but non-practicing, she said, and was raised with a fear of Christians. Her parents were discriminated against while trying to get jobs, she said.
Russell said the Orange-Durham Chapter of Americans United includes Unitarian Universalists, atheists, Jews and Christians.
Kaye Crawford is a retired teacher and UCC minister, so “in that regard I am very concerned about what’s happening to public education and the movement underway to legalize teaching Christianity in public schools,” she said. “That’s a violation of the First Amendment.”
Crawford said she is concerned about the loss of funding for public schools and diverting it to private schools through vouchers.
Andrea Shapiro, a member of Judea Reform Congregation, said that as a child growing up in California, there was religious education in public schools. It was Christian education so Jewish and other students could opt out, which she did. Christian students left, and “we sat and did nothing. That’s not what America is supposed to be. It’s not what the Founding Fathers wanted.”
Shapiro said she believes in the First Amendment and “it’s kind of sad we have to work to defend what’s fundamental in our country.”
Russell said that religion used for political purposes and politics used for religious purposes is detrimental to both. He said the purpose of the Orange-Durham Chapter of Americans United is education and to raise the level of discourse about the matter.
“We’re moving in a perilous direction, teaching Christian doctrine as science,” Tiryakian said, referring to teaching evolution vs. intelligent design in schools. “We’re going to forfeit a whole generation of youngsters taught religious beliefs, not fact. It’s fine to teach in church. That’s where it should be taught.”
Shapiro said that as far as the idea of prayer not being allowed in school, it’s not that children can’t pray, just that they can’t be led by an authority.
The chapter’s first public event will be a visit from the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is based in Washington, D.C. Lynn will speak on “Religious Liberty: The Good, the Bad, and the Truly Ugly” at 2 p.m. March 9 at Extraordinary Ventures in Chapel Hill. The new chapter is organizing the event along with the Ethical Humanist Society of the Triangle. Local religious group sponsors of the event include Beth El Synagogue, Hillsborough Presbyterian Church, Jewish Community Relations Council of the Durham/Chapel Hill Jewish Federation, Kehillah Synagogue, Kol Haskalah, Olin T. Binkley Baptist Church, the Peace and Reconciliation Mission of Watts Street Baptist Church, the Social Action Committee of Judea Reform Congregation and United Church of Chapel Hill.

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: Presentation by the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “Religious Liberty: The Good, the Bad, and the Truly Ugly.”
WHEN: 2 p.m. March 9
WHERE: Extraordinary Ventures
200 S. Elliott Road, Chapel Hill
DETAILS: Free admission. Presentation will be followed by panel and audience discussion. For information, contact orangedurhamunited@gmail.com.