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Sabbath Afternoon Panel at the Forum Conference

Conversations in the Public Square
Panel: Barry Lynn, Charles Scriven, Avis Buchanan, Ryan Bell, Glenn Coe
Moderated by Roy Branson

Avis (Director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, DC.): She is not sure where the line is between her public witness and private beliefs. Wants to know a candidate’s beliefs so that she can be “on notice” about what they think, not just how they act. On the Office of Faith-based Initiatives, she expresed conflicted feelings about the good that is provides in more funding to help the poor, but wary of the fact that is has worked essentially to buy religious people’s votes.
Bell (Senior Pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church): He admires separation of church and state, but feels like an absolutist stance falls into a modernist category. He does not feel like he has a separate private and public self. Public is empirical; the private is subjective, but as someone who is postmodern in his outlook, he rejects the separation of the public and private and embraces the idea of the prophetic Christian Adventist as a moral public voice on the margins, speaking to the issues of the day.
Coe (Attorney in Connecticut and longest serving Adventist Forum president): He said that the idea that people in public life have to segregate their religious beliefs from their public is just not realistic. We are individuals made up of many different values. A Christian cannot act in a non-religious vaccum. What he finds objectionable is a believer speaking publicly who feels that he or she must cloak their ideas in religious language. We have much in common with non-believers – care for the poor, justice, equality – concern for these come from more than a metaphysical place. He quoted Christopher Hitchens who said that no one can come up with a religious value that a secular person cannot also hold.
One of the problems that religious believers have is that they are limited by their religious beliefs – literalism, indoctrination, etc. The difficulty our nation had in embracing the civil rights movement, women’s equality, and acceptance of gays and lesbians comes in large part from the rigidity that religion creates. He added that another group that suffers when theology dominates is children. Many religious conservatives don’t accept the movement to treat children as right’s baring humans and so, groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christian Scientists are able to limit minor access to health care behind the wall of parental control.
Roy: (addressed Barry) You said that religion is different than ideologies, and thus it has to be separated in special ways. How is religion more potent than capitalism or socialism? Why your advocacy for restraint on religion, i.e., why do you really feel that separation is more important than the free exercise of religion? Should we tax churches, do away with chaplains in the military?
Barry Lynn: The framers put in a special clause that treated religion as a different kind of human expression. We can became a socialist or capitalist nation and still be constitutional, but we cannot set up a national religion. The restraint is only in the public square, for instance, putting a creche on public land when dozens of church lawns remain free of any nativity art. He pointed out that “In God We Trust” on dollar bills don’t stop Christians – or anyone else – from attempting to bribe Congress or the presence of Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms doesn’t do much about adultery.
The State has to be careful not to help evangelize for one religion or denomination against others. For instance, if the State allowed the Native American religion to legally use peyote then it would incentivize those who want to use that drug to join the Native American religion. Barry Lynn said that he supports military chaplains because the armed forces takes people out of their support networks and should provide them with that wherever they are posted. but he argued that we should not be paying $175,000 per Congressional chaplain. There are churches all around with staff that can offer the 1.5 minute prayer each day.
Chuck Scriven responded to Coe’s Hitchens quote by saying that hospitals are a direct outgrowth of Christianity and did not exist in the pagan world. In addition, the prohibitions of infanticide come from Christians. The idea of particularly since it and abortion were solely the decision of the father.
In conclusion, Barry Lynn said that the idea of separation of church and state is fundamentally a conservative idea. The best thing gov. can do for religion is leave it alone and the best thing that believers can do is when gov. comes offering its help is run the other way.

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