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The late senator “was a great champion of church-state separation,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in a preparedstatement. “It’s not just that he consistently voted to support that principle — he really got it. He deeply understood that only a high and firm wall of separation between church and state could protect our liberties. He knew the reasons why our Founders established church-state separation and why we need to preserve it. He got how church-state separation protects the rights of both religious and non-religious people.”
Lynn cited Kennedy’s fierce opposition to a famous attempt by his former colleague, the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), to push through the Senate a constitutional amendment enabling government-sanctioned school prayer. He also noted Kennedy’s crucial opposition to failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, who was opposed by many religious-freedom activists because of his support for government endorsements of religion.
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“The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith,” he continued. “They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk. Those who favor censorship should recall that one of the first books ever burned was the first English translation of the Bible…. Let us never forget: Today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority.”
The vision Kennedy held out was of an “America where the power of faith will always burn brightly, but where no modern Inquisition of any kind will ever light the fires of fear, coercion or angry division.”
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