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Senate chaplain withdraws from evangelical seminar

February 02, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black has canceled his scheduled appearance at a Christian evangelical conference after he was pictured with columnist Ann Coulter and other prominent conservatives in a brochure promoting the event.

Black told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he wouldn't be addressing next month's Reclaiming America for Christ Conference because his appearance wouldn't uphold the Senate chaplain's "historic tradition of being nonpolitical, nonpartisan, nonsectarian," a spokeswoman for the chaplain said Thursday.

Spokeswoman Meg Saunders said Black, a Seventh-day Adventist and a former Navy chaplain, had received "a very generic invitation" in fall 2005 to speak at the March conference and had agreed because there was room on his schedule.

After learning more about the other speakers and the event's featured topics, Black became "concerned" and canceled his appearance, Saunders said. "He felt the information had been incomplete," she said.

Other featured speakers at the conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., include Father Frank A. Pavone, a Catholic priest and abortion opponent; conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly; and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Listed topics include "making America safe for the unborn," "the battle to defend marriage," "homosexuality and the church" and "Darwin's deadly legacy."

The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ is an offshoot of Coral Ridge Ministries, an evangelical group led by the Rev. D. James Kennedy.

The Rev. Gary Cass, the center's executive director, said he had hoped Black would speak about how faith and public service intersect. He said he did not try to disguise the fact that the conference was conservative. "We are a conservative evangelical ministry. Our conference is an outworking of our faith. It's not political; it's moral, it's ethical. Does it have political implications? Certainly."

The invitation, sent to Black by Reclaiming America National Field Director Barbara Collier, referred to the event as a "grass-roots training conference ... to specifically inform, train and equip Christians to be salt and light in their own communities." Collier wrote that Black's appearance "would encourage individual involvement to help restore our God-given freedoms and to defend and implement the biblical principles on which our country was founded."

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said that his Washington advocacy group had learned of Black's plans to appear from a brochure for the event that pictured the chaplain next to Coulter on the list of speakers. Lynn said he sent a letter to Black objecting to the appearance.

"The chaplain is supposed to represent a variety of faiths," Lynn said, "and here he was going to an event that is always partisan, always divisive, always disparaging of other religions other than fundamentalist Christianity."

Saunders said Black decided to withdraw from the conference before receiving Lynn's letter. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call first reported the cancellation, on Thursday.

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