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Church-state programs set

March 09, 2006

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a group of Washington County citizens, civic activists and religious leaders decided they needed to act.

To pre-empt the possibility that local residents would blame members of the local Muslim community for those attacks, they formed the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County.

In the years since it was formed, the group has held a variety of events, including everything from large gatherings at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater to small-group discussions on how different faith traditions affect believers' daily lives.

The group even raised money and worked together on a Habitat for Humanity project in Boonsboro, the aptly named "House that Faith Built."

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Now the group is taking on a most timely topic - the separation of church and state and how those of different faiths view that issue.

To do that, the coalition will hold three different sessions, beginning later this month, at the Hagerstown YMCA on Eastern Boulevard.

On Thursday, March 23, the first session will feature Dr. John P. Langan, a professor at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Langan, a Jesuit priest who has taught at Yale Divinity School and advised the U.S. Navy Corps of Chaplains, will speak on the philosophical and historical background of church-state separation.

On Thursday, April 6, Stephen Reeves, an attorney for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, will speak on the legal and constitutional issues of church-state separation.

The committee's mission statement says that it "champions the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government."

On Thursday, April 27, local representatives will offer perspectives on what their faith traditions teach them about church-state separation.

All programs will run from 7 to 9 p.m. and seats can be reserved by calling the Rev. Ed Poling at 301-733-3565.

Even if you have no strong faith tradition, these are programs worth attending, for one important reason. There are believers in every community who feel that the government should support their tradition, whether it be through sanctioning prayer in school or funding textbooks for religious schools.

Whether you support or oppose such views, having more knowledge of the legal, historical and personal background of the issue will help you make informed decisions when such issues arise.

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