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Wilson College hosts religion forum

March 28, 2001

Wilson College hosts religion forum



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

Wilson religion forumPhoto: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

School prayer and federal funding of faith-based organizations were at the forefront of a discussion of the separation of church and state at Wilson College Tuesday.

As part of a day-long event, Pennsylvania Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Shippensburg, the Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel, associate pastor of Christ's Reformed Church in Hagerstown, and the Rev. C. Edward Morgan, senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Chambersburg, debated where religious groups and the government should draw the line of separation as part of the 38th annual Orr Forum at the college.

"We have always had and will always have prayer in school. There is nothing wrong with silent, private prayer," Daniel said.

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But when it comes to public or forced prayer, Daniel said that crosses the line.

Others echoed her thoughts on that, but it was the topic of federal funding of faith-based groups - an early priority of President George W. Bush's administraion - that stimulated the most discussion.

"This could create an easy way out for the government to take less responsibility for the care of its citizens," Daniel said. "It's a bad idea to open a Pandora's box of government control of religion. The line should be drawn so religion and government can wave from a distance."

Coy also expressed concerns with the potential mingling of government and religion, citing Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in his arguments that the current system is what the country's founding fathers envisioned and has worked for more than two centuries.

"Keep in mind the Constitution was written to protect people from government infringement on their religion. They did not want a state religion," Coy said.

Unlike the other panelists, Morgan said he did not have a problem with government funding faith-based organizations, but emphasized there should be no "government meddling with any religion."

Morgan said a number of religious groups perform vital social service functions such as caring for the elderly, feeding the hungry or otherwise helping people who are not served by the government.

"People are cared for by people, not by bureaucracy," he said.

The three panelists and an audience of about 50 people began questioning whose role it would be to decide what a faith-based organization is and what the guidelines would be for trying to convert people to different religions.

"At some point, someone will have to make the distinction of what a charitable organization is and what a religious organization is," Coy said. "My problem is, who will make that distinction? There's got to be discretion, and someone is not going to be happy."

Some audience members said their concern is not necessarily whether the government should be supplying these social services or funneling money to religious groups to do the job, but rather that no one is talking about increasing the budget for the services or encouraging more people to volunteer.

"Nowhere are we talking about increasing the budget. We're talking about how to divide the money," one woman said.

"What do we have to do to get people to want to help?" asked another person.

Coy said he believed it was the job of churches to advocate a need for a service in society and get the community involved.

"Ideally, we are all called and hopefully will help," Daniel said.

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