Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Columbia Chapter

Our Chapter Events

Archive of Past Events

Separation Anxiety: Are we winning the Fight for Real Religious Freedom?
Religious Liberty or Religious Coercion
Portland’s first Screening of the Film God Loves Uganda
Three 800-Pound Gorillas Enter the Church-State Arena
The War on Contraception Featuring Erin Matson
Rob Boston Speaks at Our Chapter Event
The Texas State Board Rewrites History
Teachers Wearing Religious Clothing
Pulling Students Out of Class for Religious Instruction
Civil Rites - Same-Sex Marriage and the 1st Amendment
Resisting Intelligent Design in Jefferson School District
Historic “First Freedom First Simulcast” in Portland
Politics and Religion in the 2008 Election
Rev. Barry Lynn Speaks at Chapter Event
Special Event - The Rev. Cedric Harmon
Ten Commandments: Chapter Meeting
Professor Steven K. Green Speaks at Our Meeting
Katherine Stewart on the Fundamentalist Threat to Schools

Photo by Dan Domenigoni

Separation Anxiety: Are we winning the Fight for Real Religious Freedom? – June 1, 2016

A presentation by Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United
Dr. Lynn focused on the war on women’s health coverage; religion in public schools and Protect thy Neighbor – AU’s response to anti-LGBT issues.  A large crowd gathered at the historic Eliot Chapel of the First Unitarian Church.  After his remarks, Dr. Lynn had a lively Question and answer session.  A hosted reception concluded the evening.

How Religious Fundamentalists Threatens Public Schools – June 9th, 2015

Speech by Katherine Stewart 

Katherine Stewart, wrote the book The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Childrenin which she documents how a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case changed the landscape for how religion operates in public schools throughout the country.

Stewart, AU’s Person of the Year, spoke at our chapter event in Portland. She says that there is more religion in public schools today than there has been in the past 100 years.

Religious fundamentalists are "planting" churches in public schools, waging war on science education, and rewriting textbooks to conform to a Christian Nationalist agenda. After-school Good News Clubs target elementary school children for conversion to fundamentalism. The movement driving this agenda is stealthy and aggressive. It has our children in its sights. It represents a serious threat, not only to our system of public education, but to democracy itself.

There are now about 4,000 Good News Clubs operating in the U.S., and Stewart argues that while they bill themselves as after-school bible study, their true mission is to convert children to fundamentalist Christianity by creating the false but unavoidable impression in young children that their school endorses a particular form of Christianity. The Good News Clubs also weaken public education by needlessly turning elementary school classrooms into religious battlegrounds.

This event was presented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Columbia Chapter and sponsored by the Center For Inquiry-Portland and Protect Portland Children.

Religious Liberty or Religious Coercion – April 7, 2014

Featuring Rev. Steven Baines

Is religious liberty being attacked in America? At our meeting, Rev. Baines explained how leaders of the political and religious right are using this claim to undermine the Affordable Care Act, attack current state LGBT non-discrimination laws, devalue the growing religious pluralism in America, and polarize the upcoming 2014 mid-term elections.

He also talked about business owners who are demanding their right to impose their religious views on their employees or customers. Some object to contraceptive insurance coverage for their employees. Others object to serving gay customers who are getting married.

Baines, a very effective and dynamic speaker, also answered questions covering a wide range of other current church/state issues.

More than 50 people attended this event at the Multnomah Arts Center in Portland.

Baines is a national spokesperson on issues of faith and politics and has been featured debating leaders of the Religious Right and the so-called “ex-gay” movement on CNN, C-SPAN, Court TV and numerous syndicated talk radio shows.

He is a former Southern Baptist pastor and is currently Religious Outreach Director at Americans United, where he is responsible for the organization's national engagement with and mobilization of people of faith.

Photos by Dan Domenigoni

Portland’s first Screening of the Film God Loves Uganda – August 12, 2013

Religious Activism and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Our chapter presented the Portland premier of God Loves Uganda at the Southwest Portland Community Center. First shown publicly at this year’s Sundance Festival, the film portrays faith-based homophobia in Uganda, and is an object lesson in what can happen whenever the teachings of a particular faith tradition are allowed to trump individual freedom of choice.

The biggest surprise for many viewers was the extent to which American-style evangelical Christianity has already taken root in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, much of the film captures the work of a small army of young-adult Americans in Uganda, sponsored by US churches to spread the faith further. Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams also highlights an “Anti-Homosexuality Bill”, long pending in Uganda’s Parliament, that would make homosexual activity punishable by life in prison. Most riveting, however, was his footage of groups of Ugandan villagers beating and killing gay Ugandan men, including prominent activist David Cato.

Following the 90-minute screening, Chapter President Bruce Adams led a brief discussion of audience reactions. The consensus? This was an extremely disturbing film, but well worth seeing.

More information about God Loves Uganda and the filmmaker is available at and

Three 800-Pound Gorillas Enter the Church-State Arena - March 11, 2013

Featuring Barry Lynn, Executive of Director Americans United

Perhaps the most effective voice for church/state separation today, Barry Lynn frequently appears on national TV news programs. He is a lively speaker who is always up-to-date on the latest issues.

For more information about Barry Lynn, click here.

Barry Lynn’s talk was entitled “Three 800-Pound Gorillas Enter the Church/State Arena and it’s No Joke.”

In his talk, he emphasized three major church/state issues that are popping up around the country:

  1. Illegal political activity by churches,
  2. government funding for religious groups with discriminatory hiring practices  and
  3. for-profit businesses with owners claiming religious objections to covering birth control for their employees.

Barry Lynn is known for being a very dynamic speaker and he did not disappoint. He gave a terrific speech!

This event was held at the Eliot Chapel at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland. Over 175 people attended.

To view the video of Barry Lynn's speech, click here.
We thank Jim Lockhart for producing this video!

Photos by Dan Domenigoni

The War on Contraception - May 30, 2012

Religious Fundamentalism and Public Policy     Featuring Erin Matson

Erin Matson, the Action Vice President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) addressed the issue of birth control as a perceived assault on religious freedom, and the misuse of “conscience” as part of an agenda to block women’s access to contraception.

She discussed ongoing efforts and difficulties toward expanding access to contraception at the federal and state level, as well as through corporate policy; and shared her experiences from the front lines of this battle, offering ideas on how each of us can help.

Also on the program:

Steven K. Green -- Director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy
Law professor at Willamette University College of Law
Michele Stranger Hunt -- Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon
Laura Terrill Patten -- Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon

This was very timely topic and we are glad to say that we had a large audience.
To view videos of our “War on Contraception” event, click here for the first part and here for the second part. Our thanks to Jim Lockhart for producing the videos.

Rob Boston Speaks at Our Chapter Event - March 29, 2011

Church-State Separation: Challenges and Opportunities

Photo by Dan Domenigoni

Robert Boston is senior policy analyst and assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C. He also serves as assistant editor of AU's monthly magazine Church & State.

Boston spoke about Church-State Separation: Challenges and Opportunities. He focused on several different challenges we face in the U.S. Congress and around the country, examining these threats from a legal, legislative and even cultural perspective. He also included information about the Tea Party. After his prepared remarks, he fielded questions on a variety of church-state issues.

Our chapter hosted Boston at the Eliot Center at First Unitarian Church in Portland and were pleased that almost 100 people attended!

To view a video of Rob Boston's speech, click here.

More information about Rob Boston

Boston, who joined the Americans United staff in 1987, frequently writes about the political goals of the Religious Right and other church-state issues, such as religion in public schools, tax aid to sectarian education and religious freedom. He covers the U.S. Supreme Court for Church & State and has attended oral arguments in every church-state case at the high court since 1988.

Boston is the author of three books: Close Encounters with the Religious Right: Journeys into the Twilight Zone of Religion and Politics (Prometheus Books, 2000); The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition (Prometheus Books, 1996) and Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church and State (Prometheus Books, 1993; second edition, 2003).

In addition, Boston often serves as a spokesman for Americans United and has appeared on CNN's "Anderson Cooper," Fox News Channel's "O’Reilly Factor," MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” and other programs.

To see Rob Boston on FOX and Friends debating Mike Huckabee about a prayer issue, click here.

Boston frequently posts articles on the Americans United web site, to read them, go to and look for his byline.

The Texas State Board Rewrites History - Posted May 20, 2010

Professor Steven Green at our Chapter Meeting

Photo by Dan Domenigoni

People crowded into the meeting. Most had been following the Texas textbook issue and were outraged! They were eager for more information and wanted to hear from someone who had been there and could give a firsthand perspective on it.

Professor Green did not disappoint!

Steven K. Green is Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University. He also holds a PhD in American constitutional history, so he is uniquely qualified to testify about what should (and should not) be included in social studies textbooks in our public schools.

Professor Green told us about testifying at the January hearings of the Texas State Board of Education and about the Board, which is controlled by Christian conservatives who are bent on rewriting history texts to “correct” what they see as a liberal bias. He spoke about their total lack of concern for the many factual errors that they are including in the new textbook standards. He explained how this is different than most church/state issues because of the sheer number of changes which, taken one-by-one, could seem to be minor but which, taken as a whole, clearly promote “Christian Nation” and “American Exceptionalism” views.

The group had many questions, including what impact this could have on schools in our area.

Michael Barton writes about the meeting, and has pictures on his Dispersal of Darwin blog.

For more information on this issue, we recommend the New York Times article titled “How Christian Were the Founders” (Jan. 2010) which explains the issues and quotes Professor Green.

You may also be interested in Professor Green’s most recent book on a different topic. It is The Second Disestablishment: Church and State in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford University Press 2010), which is now available from booksellers.

Teachers Wearing Religious Clothing - Jan. 11, 2010

In Oregon all employees except public school teachers have a right to wear their religious clothing at work. Dave Hunt, Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives plans to change that in the special legislative session this February. If he is successful, Oregon teachers will be allowed to wear religious clothing at work. For more information on the law, check out our Local Issues page.

Speaker Hunt came to our chapter meeting to tell us about his plans and some Muslim women explained the problems this law posed for Muslims. We had a great discussion!

Photo by Dan Domenigoni

Pulling Students Out of Class for Religious Instruction - Sept. 21, 2009

Dani Tofte, left, and Mona Bodo, right
photo by Steve Eltinge

Sherwood, Oregon moms lead a lively discussion at our chapter meeting!

When Sherwood parents Dani Tofte and Mona Bodo discovered that the group called “PREP4Kids” was planning to pull students out of Sherwood’s public school classrooms for religious instruction, they investigated. They first found out that released time programs are legal in the United States and that, unlike other states, Oregon law requires schools to release students to these programs.

In other words, PREP4Kids may pull students of their public school classrooms and the schools have little or no say in the matter!
Dani and Mona were concerned the impact PREP4Kids would have on students. Specifically, they saw this as a disruption to learning, both for the students who participated and those who stayed behind in the classroom.

They also wanted to be sure that the school district would follow the law and treat the program with strict neutrality and to assure that no district resources would be used to support or advertise the PREP4Kids program.

Dani and Mona met with district administrators and testified at a school board meeting.

What a great chapter meeting!

Our members were very interested in these issues and were inspired by Dani and Mona’s dedication and by the work they and others who worked with them had done.

To read more about their story, from Dani’s personal perspective, click here.

To read The Oregonian article about their efforts, here.

To visit PREP4Kids’ website, click here.

Civil Rites - Same-Sex Marriage and the 1st Amendment – Posted April 24, 2009
A symposium on marriage equality

Photo by Dan Domenigoni

Our Columbia Chapter and the Clark County (Washington) Chapter jointly organized this Symposium, which was held on April 19, 2009 at Portland State University’s Hoffmann Hall. About 90 people attended.

We worked on this program for several months with no idea about how timely it's topic would become. Just over two weeks before our program the Iowa Supreme Court astonished the nation by declaring same-sex marriage legal in that state. Then, a few days later Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by a vote in the legislature.

No one doubts same-sex marriage is a controversial issue. However it is not always seen as a 1st Amendment church/state separation issue. Some religious groups were very active in their support of California’s Proposition 8, working to impose their narrow view of marriage on everyone. Their high visibility on this issue reminded many people that whenever any law reflects a religious view, it is an issue of church/state separation.

Click here to see AU’s position on same-sex marriage.

The Symposium dealt with the evolution and history of marriage, legal differences between domestic partnerships and marriage, and religious views about marriage. It was clear that couples want same-sex marriage because of its legal advantages, but also because of the issue of equality.

These and other subjects were addressed by our distinguished panel:

Steven K. Green, Director – Center for the Study of Religion, Law & Democracy, Willamette University School of Law, Moderator
Tamara Metz, Professor of Political Science – Reed College
Beth A. Allen, Attorney at Law – Allen2 Law, LLC
Reverend Tara Wilkins, Executive Director – Community of Welcoming Congregations
Rabbi Daniel Isaak – Congregation Neveh Shalom

People also told their personal stories about same-sex relationships. Rob Nosse told about his marriage (in Canada but not recognized in the USA) and about raising children. Bonnie Tinker recounted her long-time domestic partnership and legal challenges resulting from lack of marital rights, and Rabbi Isaak showed a moving video from his son’s (same sex) wedding.

We especially thank these groups for co-sponsoring the Symposium:

The Portland State University Women’s Studies Department
Basic Rights Oregon
Love Makes a Family
Portland JACL (Japanese American Citizens League)
The Portland Association of Teachers
The Oregon Education Association
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon

The Symposium increased our knowledge of the issues, and made us more aware of the problems same-sex couples and their families face in the present legal environment. The recent victories in Iowa and Vermont are clearly important, but this issue will not be resolved in the United States until the federal government recognizes the right to same-sex marriage. There is much more work to be done. But we hope that, with this program, our AU chapters helped move more hearts and minds toward true marriage equality under the law.

Thanks to Susan Gates and her committee for all their work organizing this event.

Click the links to see this event:
Edited video by Jim Lockhart, Part 1 and Part 2
Video by Joe Anybody

Resisting Intelligent Design in Jefferson, Oregon School District – Sept. 15, 2008

When science teacher Karen Sinex came to speak to our chapter, she was met by a large enthusiastic crowd of supporters. In fact, the meeting started late because people had to go search for extra chairs. Ms. Sinex had firmly resisted an attempt to introduce Intelligent Design into her classroom and people had come to hear her tell her story and to demonstrate their support.

Photo by James K. Smith

Ms. Sinex told her story in a quiet, factual and compelling manner and was interrupted several times by applause.

She told how a local pastor wanted her to allow a speaker on Intelligent Design into her science classroom. She cited Oregon law, which is clearly on her side, and refused to allow the speaker. However, the pastor had other ideas too. Ms. Sinex had every right to expect the school district to back her as she dealt with the ideas, but she did not feel the district was taking her side. This went on for several months until the pastor presented his ideas at a school board meeting. In response, the school superintendent and two of the school board members announced that they believed in Intelligent Design!
Ms. Sinex said she was shocked by these statements but that she did not give up. And, by their next meeting, the school board was ready to put this issue behind them. They asked Ms. Sinex to make one very minor change in a teaching material she used and then they decided to send a letter to the pastor indicating that was all they would do.
After Ms. Sinex spoke at our chapter meeting, Bruce Adams, our chapter president, commended Ms. Sinex for her courage and told about our involvement with this issue. For several months all we could do is offer moral support and advice behind the scenes. However, after the pastor spoke at the first board meeting, this was a public issue and Ms. Sinex felt forced to make her side public too. So we placed calls on her behalf to the superintendent and the chair of the school board to let them know we were interested and to hear their side of the story. (They did not return our calls.) We also helped rally support for Ms. Sinex. We coordinated with the local teacher’s union representative who had also been working with Ms. Sinex and who attended the next school board meeting with us and Ms. Sinex.

At our meeting, a member of the audience asked why we did not file a law suit. Bruce explained that while the district showed little support for Ms. Sinex, that is not illegal. In spite of all the talk, the only official action the school board took was in support of the proper curriculum. If the board had taken any action we thought might be illegal, we would have immediately contacted the legal department of Americans United.

When our chapter meeting was over, the energy level in the room was still high. Many people did not want to leave. They had a lot more to say and stayed to talk informally in small groups. Then they left, having been inspired by a teacher who was willing to take a stand for her students’ right to be taught science in science class.

There is more about Ms. Sinex’s story on our Local Issues page.

Historic “First Freedom First Simulcast” in Portland – March 26, 2008

A joint project of Americans United and the Interfaith Alliance

On March 26, the inspiring simulcast titled: “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Separation of Church and State … but Were Afraid to Ask!” showed in 37 theaters throughout the United States. The informative program promoted separation of church and state and featured many notable personalities, such as Michael J. Fox, who gave an especially moving plea for increased stem cell research. Also included were Americans who told about their fights for individual freedoms against great odds.

In Portland, the simulcast showed at the Regal Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, where approximately 200 people attended. Our volunteers engaged them in conversations about our chapter and about church/state separation. Many people signed the First Freedom Petition. As they left, several people commented about how much they had enjoyed the simulcast.

This program gave our chapter a chance to work with the Clark County Chapter of Americans United and the local chapter of the Interfaith Alliance as we promoted this event. By any measure the program was a big success – clearly one of the most significant separation of church and state events in Portland this year.

Politics and Religion in the 2008 Election – Feb 11, 2008

Photo by Dan Domenigoni

Is faith a legitimate issue in an election? Professor Steven K. Green addressed this and other questions at our special chapter meeting, Feb. 11, 2008, at the Multnomah Arts Center. He explained the historical role of religion in American politics and talked about the increased emphasis on candidates’ religions in the current election.

Professor Green is a professor of Law and the director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University.

This event was taped and aired several times on public access television.


Rev. Barry Lynn Speaks at Chapter Event – June 21, 2007

Our Chapter and Anne Bloom’s Books hosted the Rev. Barry Lynn for a speech and book signing at the First Baptist Church in downtown Portland. Well over 100 people attended and were treated to a terrific speech about current church/state issues. Rev. Lynn was informative, timely and entertaining. The speech was recorded by KBOO radio for later broadcast.

After Rev. Lynn’s talk, over 100 people signed the First Freedom First Petition.

Many also bought copies of Lynn's new book, Piety and Politics, the Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom, and had them signed. More about the book at:

Rev. Lynn also appeared on The Thom Hartmann Radio Program the Monday prior to his talk and spoke at the annual Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, the day after our event.

Special Event - The Rev. Cedric Harmon - March 12, 2007

Rev. Cedric Harmon
Photo by Dan Domenigoni

AU’s Associate Field Director Cedric Harmon, a Baptist Minister, addressed a crowd of almost 50 chapter members and friends. In his dynamic presentation, Rev. Harmon spoke about why church/state separation is a religious issue. He emphasized the importance of having religious leaders, as well as nonbelievers, understand the value of maintaining this nation’s separation of church and state.

This event was a big step for our chapter. We wanted to reiterate that separation of church and state is a religious issue. We invited Rev. Harmon to come from Washington, D.C. and we advertised the event through churches. We made a special point of inviting leaders of various faith groups and were gratified that several of them attended.

We held the event in the Windows Skyroom at the Red Lion Hotel – Portland Convention Center and began the meeting with hors d’oeuvres and a social hour so that our members had a chance to meet and network with people of the various faith groups who attended. We felt it was successful event and are encouraged to have similar events in the future.

Thanks to Susan Gates for all her work organizing this event.


Ten Commandments: Chapter Meeting - Sept. 18, 2006

AU member, retired Professor Arnold Panitch of Portland, discussed the Ten Commandments monuments placed in our public parks, courthouses and civic plazas. He reviewed the history of the monuments and wall plaques and recent US Supreme Court cases. Arnie was party to a suit against the City of Cincinnati in 1965, protesting a nativity scene on the City Hall steps. He also has firsthand knowledge about the Ten Commandments monument in Julia Davis Park in Boise, Idaho, and how it was moved to a churchyard.

Professor Steven K. Green Speaks at Our Meeting - January 25th, 2006

Professor Steven K. Green, who served for nine years as General Counsel and Director of Policy for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, spoke at our chapter's January meeting. He gave a lively and informative talk, based on his vast experiences.

He has participated in several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002); the Cleveland school vouchers case; Mitchell v. Helms (2000), authorizing state-paid computers and educational equipment to religious schools; and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), striking prayer at public school football games.

Green also has extensive legislative experience, having testified before Congress and several state legislatures. He helped draft federal and state laws affecting religious liberty interests, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993) and the Religious Land-Use and Institutionalized Persons Protection Act (2000). Green is a widely sought speaker and a prolific author. He is currently writing a case book on church-state law to be published by Baylor University Press.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU)

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

The Columbia Chapter of AU is based in the greater Portland/Vancouverarea, and is the only chapter in Oregon and S.W. Washington.

You may join our chapter or be on our email list no matter where you live. Contact us:

last updated 2/13/2017