Magazine article Church & State

Making a Difference: One Person Can Change Church-State History

Magazine article Church & State

Making a Difference: One Person Can Change Church-State History

Article excerpt

I don't like to contradict people's mothers, but sometimes you just have to.

Alter I finished speaking one evening recently at a United Church of Christ in Redlands, Calif., a student from a local high school told me my stories of local activists had "inspired him." I thanked him, and he added: "See, you showed us how one person can make a difference, but my mother keeps saying one person can't."

What could I do but say: "Your morn is wrong"?

On that early September visit to California, I actually ran into a number of people who had made a very big difference in the meaning of separation of church and state.

In Redlands, I learned about an activist named Anne MacMurray who organized opposition to a ballot initiative to put a shining Latin cross back on the Redlands city seal after the American Civil Liberties Union had urged its removal in 2004. "Measure Q," as it was known, was defeated by nearly 60 percent of Redlands voters in November of 2005.

The removal of this religious symbol from display as part of an official city emblem was not accomplished by a lawsuit or by what the Religious Right likes to label "unelected black-robed tyrants." All it took was a small group of people who stood up for the separation of church and state and mobilized against the misguided measure.

The next day in Los Angeles, I met with AU members in our Guardians program as well as about 25 area activists who had attended one of our regional training seminars (which mix issue information with media training). There I got acquainted with Jeannie Parent, the new president of our San Fernando Valley Chapter.

Jeannie's predecessor, Harry Schwartzbart, was the one who contacted AU's Legal Department in January 2006 to express concern because a local high school teacher was attempting to teach a Bible-based critique of evolution in a month-long class called "Philosophy of Design."

Local parents signed on as plaintiffs, mad as you may remember, we filed a lawsuit to stop it. After a lengthy debate in the county, the school board voted to end the class early and never repeat the mistake.

Jeannie mentioned to me that she "had always taken for granted that there was a wall of separation between church and state." Like many of us, she was "shocked" when intelligent design surfaced in the California high school and "immediately got involved with Americans United." That's exactly what activist organizing is all about.

A few days before I got to California, our San Diego chapter joined with other groups to honor Phillip Paulson, a Vietnam veteran who has waged an 18year battle to have a gigantic cross removed from a mountainside national war memorial. …

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