|A life’s work finds online home|
A UMNS Report
By Elizabeth Guye*
June 9, 2009
The Rev. Dean Kelley labored for 20 years producing a five-volume
manuscript that represented the accumulated wisdom of a life’s work in
the field of religious liberty.
The United Methodist pastor and defender of religious freedom would
never see it in print. He died of cancer in 1997, his masterwork
But not forgotten.
Twelve years after his death, the First Amendment Center is making available online all five volumes of “The Law of Church and State in America.”
In some 2,000 pages, Kelley takes readers through the legal
complexities of the relationship between government and religion that
he navigated for 30 years from 1960 to 1990 as executive for religious
liberty for the National Council of Churches. Many of the issues he
writes about – state funding for faith-based programs, religious
symbols on public property, faith in the classroom – continue to be a
vital part of the public debate.
The Rev. Dean Kelley
In life, those who knew him say Kelley was a fierce defender of the
rights of even the most unpopular religious groups from the Church of
Scientology to the Branch Davidians. That his writings now live on
would give a sense of satisfaction even to this unassuming man who one
friend described as a “Pickwickian man who had a monk-like haircut with
a bald spot.”
“Kelley would be quietly proud, since he was a very humble man, and
maybe a little surprised, but definitely honored that people still care
about his works today,” said the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, former top
staff executive of the church council.
From Wyoming to New York
Kelley was born June 1, 1926, in Cheyenne, Wyo. He graduated from
Denver University with a degree in theology and went on to become a
United Methodist pastor. He served churches in Oak Creek, Colo., and
then in New York at East Meadow, West Hampton Beach and New York City
for 13 years before joining the National Council of Churches.
Throughout his career, Kelley defended the right of free practice of
religion while opposing government intervention in religious affairs.
So he opposed efforts to permit prayer in public schools while
supporting the rights of students to form religious clubs.
He was an early and strong opponent of deprogramming, and risked the
disapproval of mainstream churches in defending the rights of
individuals from Christian Scientists to Scientologists to Muslims to
freely practice their faith.
Carol Fouke-Mpoyo, who served at the church council with Kelley and
now works as a communications officer for Church World Services'
Immigration and Refugee Program, said Kelley would not back away from
controversy in defending the Church of Scientology, even though many
people working with him were unhappy about his stand. Kelley “firmly
believed” that every religious group deserved all its rights, and he
worked very hard to make sure all groups received those rights,
She remembered Kelley as intellectual and serious while still being
approachable. But he did not tolerate intellectual laziness.
“When you went to talk to him about something, you had better (have)
done some research because he expected you to know the facts,” she said.
Kelley was a straightforward man and did not sweet talk anyone,
which made people trust Kelley’s opinion, said Campbell, now director
of the Department of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.
On the subject of church-state relations, Campbell said, Kelley “was a real national treasure.”
But his two-decade effort to pass along much of his wisdom fell just
short when Kelley lost a 15-month battle to cancer on May 11, 1997, at
age 70. At the time of his death, the manuscript was scheduled to be
published by Greenwood Press in the fall of 1997. However, the
publishing group felt that it should be updated with current legal
matters, which became too big of a job for others to complete. The work
The Good Samaritan
But Kelley’s friends and supporters never let it drop. A manuscript
committee got the work ready for publication and the First Amendment
Center put it online.
Dean Kelley’s mind was too valuable to waste, they decided.
“This monumental work on the law of church and state reflects both
his deep knowledge of the issues and his extraordinary ability to
provide a lively, informed account of case law central to understanding
the relationship between religion and government in America,” said
Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center.
The work deals with broad theme such as the self-governing interests
of religious bodies, the outreach activities of religious bodies, the
freedom to practice faith throughout the world and the state’s efforts
to sponsor, protect or provide shelter for religion.
Reflections on religious history and practices are included
throughout the studies of case law. For example, in a chapter on
serving human needs, Kelley cited the biblical account of the Good
Samaritan as an example of how churches can do the right thing for
It is when they do not follow the example of human kindness in
dealing with others that churches and other religious groups often get
into legal trouble, according to Kelley.
When Kelley died in 1997, the Rev. James Dunn of the Baptist Joint
Committee on Public Affairs said, “As a good Methodist, he knew that
religion of the heart was all that counted with God, and he fought and
thought with all his might to guarantee that every individual had
freedom of conscience.”
Now, with the publication of “The Law of Church and State in
America,” Kelley’s legacy continues to bear fruit. It’s a development
that the Rev. Ken Bedell, a United Methodist pastor and friend of
Kelley’s, is glad to see.
“I think it’s exciting,” Bedell said. “So people will know what he
really meant and tried to establish instead of just hearing the titles
of his works and assuming what he was fighting for.”
*Guye is a United Methodist News Service news writing intern based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Elizabeth Guye, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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