Americans United enjoyed a dubious distinction late in February: Within the space of a week, the organization was singled out for attack by two Religious Right groups.
First out of the gate was the Liberty Institute, a Religious Right legal group based in Texas. The Institute published an article titled "5 Dangerous Enemies Against Your Christian Faith" on the website Charisma News. Americans United was among the five.
In a brief synopsis, Liberty Institute noted that Americans United was founded in 1947. Just about everything else it reported after that was a lie, a half-truth or an inflammatory distortion.
According to the Liberty Institute, AU has "worked to ban 'God' from graduation speeches, shut down the activity of prison ministries, outlaw school vouchers allowing parents to send children to religious schools, and tear down veterans memorials."
Added the Liberty Institute, "They also constantly lobby Congress and threaten religious activity in local communities."
The charges were a distortion of AU's work that failed to tell the whole story. In public schools, for example, Americans United has opposed coercive, school-sponsored prayer and proselytizing during events like graduation, but the group hasn't tried to stop voluntary expressions of religion.
The claim about prison ministries also lacked context. AU does not oppose voluntary religious activity by inmates and supports the right of religious groups to visit prisoners. But AU did successfully shut down an evangelical Christian prison ministry in Iowa because it was tax funded and gave special perks to inmates who were willing to live in a fundamentalist environment.
The program, run by Charles W. Colson's Prison Fellowship, should never have received public support, AU argued. The group would not have opposed it had it operated with private money and not fostered unequal treatment of inmates based on religious belief.
On vouchers, the Liberty Institute has it almost right. AU does oppose school vouchers, arguing that the people who believe in the mission of sectarian schools should pay for propagation of religion, not the taxpayer at large. AU believes private religious schools--like all religious enterprises --function best when they are not tied to the state.
The matter of veterans' memorials also lacks context. AU has sued over memorials festooned with Christian symbols. Such displays, AU maintains, fail to honor all of our veterans, who come from various religious and...