Today, our country has lost one of its strongest defenders of the Constitution, Sen. Edward M.Kennedy. He was a longstanding civil rights advocate and will be greatly missed.
I issued this statement about Sen. Kennedy this morning via Americans United’s Web site:
“Sen. Ted Kennedy was a great champion of church-state separation. 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.
“One of the things that made Sen. Kennedy so effective was his powerful presence. I first met him in the 1970s during a meeting designed to address issues of concern to residents of Washington, D.C. There were probably 40 people in the room, all squabbling about how to proceed. When Sen. Kennedy walked in, all talking stopped. He outlined a plan of action, and we divided up the work.
“In subsequent years, I had many occasions to work with Sen. Kennedy and his staff. Although he belonged to a powerful political family, I always found him to be down to earth and engaging. He always took the time to intensely study whatever issue came before him, and his command of the facts and the workings of the Senate were impressive.
“When Sen. Jesse Helms tried to push a school prayer amendment through the Senate, Ted Kennedy stood up to block it. When President Ronald Reagan sought to put Robert Bork on the Supreme Court, Ted Kennedy led the charge to stop him. When bills were introduced in Congress to fund religious schools with tax funds, Ted Kennedy was the first to speak up in opposition.
“At the same time, Sen. Kennedy was a consistent supporter of the free exercise of religion and deplored any effort to chisel away at this cherished right of the American people.
“At Americans United’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1997, Kennedy sent videotaped remarks commending AU’s work. ‘Through the years,’ Kennedy said, ‘we have worked well together to ensure that when the First Amendment says [Congress shall make] no law [respecting an establishment of religion], it means no law. May it always be so.’
“Sen. Kennedy truly cannot be replaced. He was an institution and will be remembered as one of the great heroes of religious liberty and church-state separation. Americans United sends its condolences to the senator’s family. We mourn his passing but honor his legacy – a legacy of freedom that will stand for many years to come.”
I welcome all of you to join in this conversation and share your thoughts about Sen. Kennedy, a truly great American.
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