Barry W. Lynn

For the journalist, see: Barry C. Lynn.

Barry W. Lynn (born 1948) was the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State from 1992 to November 2017.[1][2] He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a prominent leader of the religious left in the United States.[3] Lynn was formerly a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association.[4] He is known to be a strong advocate of separation of church and state.[5]

Early lifeEdit

Barry Lynn was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, but his family moved to nearby Bethlehem when he was a child. He attended Bethlehem's Liberty High School, graduating in 1966.[6]

Lynn received his B.A. in 1970 from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and his theology degree from Boston University School of Theology in 1973. After attending law school at night, he received his J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law Center.[1]


After law school, Lynn continued to work with the United Church of Christ to gain amnesty for young men who chose desertion to protest the Vietnam War. Before going to Americans United, Lynn held positions related to religious liberties. In the mid-to-late 1980s he was legislative counsel for Washington's ACLU office, where he frequently worked on church–state issues. From 1974 to 1980, Lynn held positions within the national offices of the United Church of Christ, including two years for the Church's Office of Church in Society in Washington, D.C., as legislative counsel.[1]

Lynn has appeared frequently on radio broadcasts and television to debate and discuss First Amendment issues, including MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, NBC's Today Show, Nightline, Fox Morning News (Washington, D.C.), CNN's Crossfire, Lou Dobbs Tonight, Anderson Cooper 360°, The Phil Donahue Show, Meet the Press, CBS Morning News, ABC's Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and Larry King Live. He was formerly a weekly commentator on church-state issues for UPI Radio, and served for two years as regular co-host of Buchanan and Company on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Lynn hosted the radio program Culture Shocks,[7] until 2013, which could be heard on 1160 AM in Washington, D.C., and on several stations nationally.

Lynn's first book, Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom (ISBN 0-307-34654-4), was published in October 2006. His second book, God and Government: Twenty-Five Years of Fighting for Equality, Secularism, and Freedom Of Conscience (ISBN 1633880257) was published in 2015.

Legal actions and positionsEdit

In 2006 Lynn argued that Focus on the Family’s efforts to bring up moral issues in the 2004 election represented “a blatant effort by [James] Dobson to build a partisan political machine based in churches...[Dobson] has made it abundantly clear that electing Republicans is an integral part of his agenda and he doesn’t mind risking the tax-exemption of churches in the process”.[8][9]

A separate organization unrelated to Lynn's Americans United later filed a formal complaint with the IRS over Dobson's political endorsements.[10] Lynn did not support this complaint, and the IRS determined that since the endorsements were given by Dobson as a private individual, they did not violate federal tax law.

Americans United filed suit against the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI), a program of Prison Fellowship Ministries. IFI had contracted with the state of Iowa to provide in-prison rehabilitation programs. The suit alleged that the Iowa program violated the separation of church and state in the Constitution. Lynn asserted that the program was saturated with Christian fundamentalism and treated non-fundamentalist inmates like second-class citizens.

Prison Fellowship Ministries responded with claims that the program was effective in reducing recidivism, citing two studies — a 2002 one by the State of Texas[11] and one done in 2003 by the University of Pennsylvania.[12] These studies were contradicted by UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman's analysis, which found that Colson's 2003 figures were statistically invalid.[13][14] Two federal courts agreed with Lynn that the program was unconstitutional.

After a federal court struck down the program, Prison Fellowship appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The state of Iowa joined with IFI in appealing the decision. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals panel consisted of three judges: William Duane Benton, Roger Leland Wollman, and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor sitting by special designation. On December 3, 2007 this panel unanimously affirmed the lower court decision, and the IFI program was removed from the Iowa prison.[15]

Lynn was very critical of the Stupak–Pitts Amendment, which was supported by the Catholic Church, and which aims to restrict the federal funding of abortion in recent health care legislation.[16]

Awards and honorsEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Barry W. Lynn". Dorothy L. Thompson Civil Rights Lecture Series. Kansas State University. 1998. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  2. ^ Boorstein, Michelle (2017-11-27). "After 25 years on the culture war's front lines, this prominent pastor-activist thinks liberals are winning". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  3. ^ Dolsten, Josefin. "First woman — and Jew — to head US group for separation of church and state". Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  4. ^ "Find members". Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  5. ^ "Thursday round-up". SCOTUSblog. 2010-04-29. Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  6. ^ Barry Lynn -
  7. ^ "Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn". Americans United. Archived from the original on July 6, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  8. ^ "Americans United Blasts Religious Right Leader Dobson's Campaign To Build Church-based Political Machine". Americans United. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  9. ^ Peter Wallsten (August 15, 2006). "Conservatives Put Faith in Church Voter Drives". LA Times. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  10. ^ Focus on the Family refuses to make public its letter from IRS | Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Archived February 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Tony Fabelo Ph. D., ed. (February 2002). "Overview of the InnerChange Freedom initiative" (PDF). Criminal Justice Policy Council (State of Texas). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 18, 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  12. ^ "Graduates of Faith-Based Prison Program Less Likely to Return to Prison". InnerChange Freedom Initiative (Prison Fellowship). June 18, 2003. Archived from the original on January 13, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  13. ^ "Americans United: Jan. 08 Faith-Based Bias Banned". Archived from the original on 2015-07-13. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  14. ^ Boston, Rob (December 2005). "Iowa Inmate Indoctrination On Trial". Church & State. Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  15. ^ "Full Text of Case". Archived from the original on 2012-11-06. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  16. ^ Unhealthy Trend: House Action On Abortion Showcases Power Of Bishops’ Lobby Archived November 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Chevy Chase man honored for work on separation of church and state". November 27, 2013. Archived from the original on May 29, 2014. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  18. ^ "AU Head Lynn Wins Prestigious Award From The Nation Institute". Church & State. Jan 2014. Retrieved May 28, 2014.

External linksEdit