Getting Souls to the Polls

Keeping Sacred Spaces Sacred

September 20-23, 2016

The polarization of our nation during this election year has been perplexing and often painful. Join The NC Council of Churches, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and other faith leaders to discuss the intersection of politics and religion and ways to provide a faithful witness in your own community.

Topics Will Include:

  • What can I legally discuss with my faith community as its leader?
  • What pending legislation could affect the church and state relationship?
  • How can I continue to advocate for the good of all, especially the “least of these”?

Registration is $15 to cover coffee, lunch, and snacks.

Please use this link, which includes payment options:

Or call the NC Council of Churches at: 919-828-6501


Workshop Dates and Locations

GREENVILLE – Tuesday, September 20, 10 am – 2 pm

@ St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 401 East 4th Street

DURHAM – Wednesday, September 21, 10 am – 2 pm

@ First Presbyterian, 305 East Main Street

CHARLOTTE – Thursday, September 22, 10 am – 2 pm

@ Selwyn Presbyterian, 2929 Selwyn Avenue

ASHEVILLE – Friday, September 23, 10 am – 2 pm

@ First United Church of Christ, 20 Oak Street

Taking Our Pulse

It has been excruciating to watch the news streaming from Orlando in the aftermath of the horrific slaughter of innocents early Sunday morning at the night club, Pulse.  All of the mass killings have touched me deeply: Sandy Hook, Paris, Santa Bernardino, Columbine…  This one, however, elicits a unique breadth of pain and dread.  It is an election year and the polarization in America is deep and seems intractable.

Already the President is being castigated for not calling the attack “radical Islamic terrorism.”  And, of course, the NRA will chant, “if someone in the crowd had a gun they could have taken him down.” Blame the victims?  We learned almost immediately that the killer had a license to own the weapons and got them legally, and that he was mentally unstable but had never seen any mental health provider.  No existing or proposed gun laws would have prevented him from doing what he did.  We can’t regulate ourselves out of the morass of distrust and hatred into which we have been dragged, though we must not stop trying.

Further, this is not about the faith of Islam.  I have participated in numbers of inter-faith dialogues, and every Muslim I know is devastated about this massacre, and doubly so: it reflects wrongly and badly on the character of their faith and further alienates many persons of shallow spirit.  We even have an aspiring leader of the nation who gloats that he was right about Islamic terrorism, and scores of political opportunists who will try to capitalize on it.

At the heart of it all is the religious and cultural disdain and hatred of LGBTQ persons.  Two hundred anti-LGBT laws have been introduced in our legislatures, and not by Muslims!  How can we make light of our nation’s founding principle that all are created equal and endowed by the Creator with life, liberty and pursuit of happiness?  Is America sick?  It is time to take our national, ethical and spiritual pulse.

Rev. Rollin Russell
Hillsborough, NC

Off The Rails

Our state elected leaders have really gone off the rails this time. No, I am not referring to the beleaguered legislature’s bizarre HB#2. This time it’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. He has sent a letter on his official state letterhead inviting himself to churches to “share my faith story, as well as share how my relationship with God impacts my family, career, and everyday decisions.” He says he has done this previously and is happy to give other churches the opportunity to hear and converse with him. It is a finger in the eye to federal law, which bars tax-exempt groups from intervening in partisan politics.

Forest goes on to suggest a format for such a visit: “invite me to attend a Sunday service at your church, . . . have me on stage side-by-side with you (the pastor) and you conduct a Q and A session.” Never mind that he is running for re-election. Does he not know that to do as he suggests would place any such church in possible violation of the Internal Revenue Code and endanger its tax exemption? Doesn’t he know that churches, like most non-profit groups, are forbidden to engage in partisan political activity? Of course he does. He and the church groups to which he panders want to have their tax-exempt cake and eat it too.

I doubt that any Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Mennonite, Lutheran, United Church of Christ or Unitarian churches will receive Forest’s letter, much less Jewish synagogues or Islamic mosques. He is wooing a particular evangelical-fundamentalist constituency, not the majority of Christian churches or religious groups. The former all know the truth that was recently so well expressed by their national leaders in “A Statement of Faithful Obedience:”

“When entering the public sphere, faith leaders must take care to avoid being used by politics or politicians, or to allow their faith to be exploited for partisan causes or their faith communities turned into mere political constituencies.”

Perfectly stated. The lieutenant governor has gone off the rails and should be ashamed.

Rev. Rollin Russell
Orange-Durham Chapter
Americans United for Separation of Church and State




The NC Legislature Reconvenes

Hide the children and the silverware.  The North Carolina Legislature is returning to Raleigh for its Short Session.   The good news is: they probably cannot do as much damage to the character and reputation of our state as they did in just one day in the special session which rammed through House Bill #2.  Companies are cancelling plans to locate facilities here.  Entertainers are cancelling their concerts here.  Professional sports leagues are reconsidering their commitments to hold headline events in North Carolina.  Cities, counties and organizations are protesting and filing suits to strike down the law.

Contrary to our beleaguered and rattled governor’s retort, it is not just a matter of “bathroom etiquette.”  The legislature used their feigned horror at a Charlotte City ordinance to strike down all municipal and county ordinances that protect the rights of LGBTQ citizens which go beyond the protections already in state law which are, for these particular  neighbors, in a word, . . . none.

It is not as though they were oblivious to the furor they might incur.  Indiana passed a similar law and had to walk it back in light of outraged protest.  Georgia passed a similar law and it’s governor was smart and courageous enough to veto it.  Mississippi has now joined in with its own version.  It is a race to the bottom in a clear effort to strike back at gay rights in general and marriage equality in particular.

The legislators base their actions on the claim to religious liberty, the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  They are really violating that very clause in the Bill of Rights, namely its other half: we are to “make no law regarding an establishment of religion.”  The Legislature and the religious conservatives to whom they pander clearly want to establish in law the precepts of their own narrow gauge religion.  It is unconstitutional and will be struck down.  But in the meantime, it is creating havoc.

So, here they come again.  What new travesty will they try to impose on us?  Like other reactionary state legislatures, they take their orders from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization funded by zillionaires who want to hold and increase political power.  It is time to get them and their legislative lackeys off our backs.  It is time to recognize that this is an attempt to establish their own exclusionary religious dogmas into law in gross violation of the cherished principle of the Separation of Curch and State.

Rev. Rollin Russell, Hillsborough, NC
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Orange-Durham Chapter

HB2 and Orange Durham AU

NC’s passing of HB2 is garnering exactly the kind of fallout we would hope. The pressure is to repeal it and we will add our voices. Currently, NC has already passed every legislative bill that would warrant protest – save the Super Religious Freedom Restoration Act proposed last year, that Speaker Moore tabled. We will continue to watch that bill, but in the meantime, we will also stir up awareness and express discontent with the egregious bills recently passed. Our action on vouchers will be first. $12 million spent so far this year to indoctrinate. We will also keep watching SB2, the legislation that allowed magistrates to opt out of doing their jobs. NC now has 5 Americans United chapters across the state watching and organizing against a brewing theocratic rule from Raleigh. Join us.


Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 10.24.59 AMPost by Allison Mahaley,

President Orange-Durham Americans United.

When I first decided to leave my job in public education and become an activist for the cause, I did a lot of research. I even wrote about it all on my blog, Ex-teacher on a Crusade. My search for answers landed me in Americans United and keeps me devoted to watch-dog work.

The plan to dismantle public schools, privatize them, and return control of them to churches or corporate institutions in America is no joke. The NC Public School Forum explained it years ago in a report called, Finding Common Ground.  The religious right made easy alliances with reformers as the nation publicly bashed schools for not closing the achievement gap. Now the religious right is getting teachers to help spread discord and religious intolerance in schools as explained in the Washington Post article published today.

So, our chapter, Orange Durham Americans United has joined forces with other groups who are wanting to stop the train wreck and support our schools. Public Schools First NC , North Carolina Association of Educators, Organize2020, The NC Justice Center, AimHigherNow, and many more are part of this coalition. This campaign is called Schools Our Students Deserve. It has one main focus: Keep NC public schools adequately funded at the state level. In order to achieve this goal, we will pressure local agencies to give teachers a voice in their profession so they, too, can speak up.

We are gaining momentum. When need more foot soldiers. Join us.