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5/29/97 ‘Freedom Ride’ to promote Religious Freedom Amendment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Christian Coalition’s “Religious Freedom Ride,” a campaign originating in Washington to push for passage of the proposed Religious Freedom Amendment, capped its inaugural day by flying into Nashville, Tenn., with the coalition’s outgoing executive director, Ralph Reed, at the helm.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist’s Christian Life Commission, joined Reed on the platform in a hanger at the Nashville International Airport May 22 to voice his support of the amendment recently introduced in Congress by Rep. Ernest Istook, R.-Okla..
Competing with the roar of airliners preparing for takeoff on a nearby runway, Reed told the Nashville audience the Christian Coalition had earmarked up to $1 million on the effort to get the bill passed.
“You have taken prayer out of the schools, you’ve taken the Bible out, the Ten Commandments out, the invocation out,” Reed said in mock address to the nation’s courts. “You have gone this far and will go no further. We will reclaim the religious heritage of this nation.
“We want to make sure God is enshrined in our court rulings and in our laws,” Reed said.
The current problem is not government sponsorship of religion but instead “government censorship of the religious beliefs of its citizens,” Land said.
He called for government to “guarantee a level playing field (for all faiths) and then to get off the field.”
“The balance has been upset and only an amendment to the Constitution will right it,” Land said, noting the courts have had more than 30 years “to get this issue right” and they have failed.
“The only way to insure and restore our religious liberty and to make sure no court will strike it down,” Land insisted, “is to amend the Constitution itself.”
Americans have taken for granted the religious freedom secured by the country’s founders, Land suggested. “It is time for us to stand and defend our cherished freedom of worship.”
“This is serious business,” Reed said. “This is not just a political battle; it is a spiritual battle. We need this effort to be bathed in prayer.”
At a rally on Capitol Hill earlier in the day, members of Congress, victims of religious discrimination, religious leaders and Family Research Council President Gary Bauer joined Reed in endorsing the amendment and a petition drive in support of the measure.
The Christian Coalition’s goal is to produce more than 1 million petitions, telegrams and contacts for Congress on behalf of the proposal, as well as a congressional vote before the 1998 elections, Reed said.
The problem in America “isn’t the budget deficit, but it’s the moral deficit,” Reed said in a large Senate office building room filled with supporters, opponents and members of the news media. Americans are uniting across religious, political and racial lines to say to federal judges and the ACLU “you have gone this far, and you will go no further,” Reed said.
The First Amendment “is there to protect everyone, but it has been hijacked,” Istook said. While the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom was intended to be a shield, he said, “They have taken the shield and turned it into a sword” to use against religious Americans. The Religious Freedom Amendment is the instrument to turn the sword back into a shield, he said, saying he anticipated a floor vote in the House of Representatives this fall.
Bauer said, “How is it that (judges) can find rights for thugs and pimps and pushers, but they cannot find the rights to religious liberty?” FRC is committed to help representatives and senators “see the light. And if they don’t see the light, we’ll make sure they feel the heat,” Bauer said.
Rep. Sanford Bishop, D.-Ga., said in support of the proposal, “For too long we have failed to step up and acknowledge we have freedoms given to us by God. Somehow we have allowed a small, vocal minority to confuse us … .”
Mohammed Khan, executive director of the Muslim Network, and Aryeh Spero, president of the National Coalition of Jews and Blacks, also endorsed the amendment.
In addition to Brittany Settle Gossett, a Gallatin, Tenn., teenager who reportedly received a failing mark for submitting a school paper about Jesus, the others who testified to experiencing religious discrimination were:
— Audrey Pearson, a physically and mentally impaired Woodbridge, Va., teenager who was told by her principal nine years ago she could not read the Bible on the school bus.
— Kelly DeNooyer of Livonia, Mich., who was prevented as a second-grade student in 1990 from showing a video in class of her singing a song in a worship service about her relationship with Jesus.
— Manuel Baerga, executive director of the Washington-area Teen Challenge, whose drug program was refused recognition by the state of Maryland beginning in 1985.
— Kevin Ashe, a Catholic priest whose Park Performing Arts Center in Union City, N.J., lost a grant from the state art council.
Between rallies at Washington and Nashville, similar events were held in Cincinnati and Lexington, Ky.
On the same day, People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a coalition headed by the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and other opponents of the amendment released statements in Washington criticizing the proposal and the Christian Coalition.
“The right of every American to worship as he or she chooses is in peril today as the Christian Coalition kicks off a sharply partisan, political campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution,” said People for the American Way President Carole Shields in a written statement. “What we are seeing today is no ‘celebration of religious freedom.’ Rather, it is an attack on the government protections that have allowed our nation’s hundreds of diverse religious creeds to flourish — free from government interference and free from the attempts of any individual, political movement or denomination to establish a dominant, ‘majority’ religion at the expense of all others.”