Americans United for Separation of Church and State Uses Gestapo Tactics against Priest Who Criticized President Obama’s Policies

The Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State claimed that the homily that Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., gave in November of last year violated federal law. Here’s some of what Bishop Jenky said:

“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care. . . . In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda – now seems intent on following a similar path.

You can agree or disagree with Bishop Jenky’s comparisons, but do his comments violate the Constitution? They do not. The First Amendment is clear that Congress can’t make any law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion “or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Barry Lynn, Americans United’s executive director said, “No rational person could believe the bishop was doing anything but saying vote against Obama.” So what if he was? Where is the Constitutional violation? If a president advocated slavery, would it be wrong for a minister, priest, or rabbi to say, “Vote against this man”?

Would the folks at Americans United have protested if a minister, rabbi, or priest had spoken out against Adolf Hitler and his policies? In fact, there has been a lot of criticism of the German churches in the 1930s because its leaders did not speak out against the creeping tyranny of Hitler and the Nazis.

Patricia Gibson, chancellor of the Peoria Diocese, responded to Lynn’s ridiculous charges:

“Based upon the current government’s threatened infringement upon the Church’s religious exercise of its ministry, Bishop Jenky offered historical context and comparisons as a means to prevent a repetition of historical attacks upon the Catholic Church and other religions.”

Americans United has assumed the role of Germany’s Gestapo. When German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) used his pulpit to expose Hitler’s radical politics, “He knew every word spoken was reported by Nazi spies and secret agents.”1 Leo Stein describes in his book I Was in Hell with Niemoeller how the Gestapo gathered evidence against Niemoeller:

Now, the charge against Niemoeller was based entirely on his sermons, which the Gestapo agents had taken down stenographically. But in none of his sermons did Pastor Niemoeller exhort his congregation to overthrow the Nazi regime. He merely raised his voice against some of the Nazi policies, particularly the policy directed against the Church. He had even refrained from criticizing the Nazi government itself or any of its personnel. Under the former government his sermons would have been construed only as an exercise of the right of free speech. Now, however, written laws, no matter how explicitly they were worded, were subjected to the interpretation of the judges.2

In a June 27, 1937 sermon, Niemoeller made it clear to those in attendance had a sacred duty to speak out on the evils of the Nazi regime no matter what the consequences: “We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.”3 A few days later, he was arrested.

His crime? “Abuse of the pulpit.” Lynn and Americans United are making the same charge.

The “Special Courts” set up by the Nazis made claims against pastors who spoke out against Hitler’s policies. Niemoeller was not the only one singled out by the Gestapo. “Some 807 other pastors and leading laymen of the ‘Confessional Church’ were arrested in 1937, and hundreds more in the next couple of years.”4

A group of Confessional Churches in Germany, founded by Pastor Niemoeller and other Protestant ministers, drew up a proclamation to confront the political changes taking place in Germany that threatened the people “with a deadly danger. The danger lies in a new religion,” the proclamation declared. “The church has by order of its Master to see to it that in our people Christ is given the honor that is proper to the Judge of the world . . . The First Commandment says ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ The new religion is a rejection of the First Commandment.”5

Five hundred pastors who read the proclamation from their pulpits were arrested.

Americans United is doing the work of the Gestapo in the name of the Constitution. This is the worst kind of political collaboration.

  1. Basil Miller, Martin Niemoeller: Hero of the Concentration Camp, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1942), 112. []
  2. Leo Stein, I Was in Hell with Niemoeller (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942), 175. []
  3. Quoted in William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 239. []
  4. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 239. []
  5. Quoted in Eugene Davidson, The Trials of the Germans: An Account of the Twenty-Two Defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, [1966] 1997), 275. []