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To the editor: In his commentary lambasting the American Civil Liberties Union (“Faith Under Fire,” Legal Times, Oct. 30, 2006, Page 84), Alan Sears does what he accuses the ACLU of doing: He seeks to undermine the principles necessary to maintain the health of our nation’s religious communities. Of course, he also ignores the crucial fact that many of us who serve on ACLU boards across the country are devoted members of religious communities. Obviously, we are not spending our time and money to attack our own religions. My involvement with the ACLU began in 1994, when the congregation where I serve as pastor was told by the D.C. zoning board that our feeding program for the homeless was an “activity inconsistent with the operation of a church” and therefore needed a zoning variance to continue. Since some of our neighbors opposed the feeding program, this would have been a death sentence for our ministry with the homeless. We went to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where, thankfully, Judge Stanley Sporkin agreed with our claim that our First Amendment right to exercise our beliefs by feeding the hungry was being denied. One key ally in that legal effort was the ACLU, which wrote an amicus brief in support of our position. Our case, in turn, has been cited by religious communities across the country as they face similar actions by federal, state, and local governments. I believe it is Mr. Sears’ philosophy, not the ACLU’s, that poses the greatest threat to the religious community. By having Christian prayers said at football games, allowing the government to fund “faith-based” programs, allowing clergy to declare partisan support for candidates in elections, etc., Mr. Sears and others are attempting to tear down the “wall” between religion and state. This separation has created the healthiest and most diverse religious community in the world today — indeed, in all of human history. The only thing it hasn’t done is what some on the religious right desire: It hasn’t allowed us to be transformed into a “Christian nation.” While some of the cases used to defend the separation of religion and state may seem nit-picking, such is the nature of the law. Small, seemingly oddball cases can end up setting huge precedents, which then become legal trends. So go to court we must. Make no mistake: It is not the ACLU whose agenda will destroy religion in this country. Religion will be destroyed by those who seek to erode and, ultimately, eliminate the separation of religion and state that our founding parents wisely established. They want to take it apart one brick at a time. We at the ACLU, like generations of Americans before us, will work to keep the wall strong. John W. Wimberly Jr. Pastor, Western Presbyterian Church Board member, American Civil Liberties Union, National Capital Area Washington, D.C.

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