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El Cajon yanks religious programs off city channel

Union Tribune (2006-10-26) Liz Neely

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Media Link: http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20061025/news_7m25ecvideo.html
More Info: Church State Separation, El Cajon City Council, Government Access Channel, Local Politics

El Cajon yanks religious programs off city channel

By Liz Neely
STAFF WRITER

October 25, 2006

The opening of an El Cajon city DVD (top) showed God government. Below, it was morphed into good government.
EL CAJON – Until recently, viewers clicking on El Cajon's government access channel might have seen statistics linking the rise in teen pregnancy to the ban on school prayer, and heard lines such as, “God makes it clear that the purpose of government is to reward the righteous and to punish the wicked.”

That's what Raymond Lutz found one night while watching TV.

Lutz's complaints prompted the city manager to yank the programming from Channel 24, but the debate continues over what is appropriate for a government channel.

Lutz, president of the East County Democratic Club, said the videos skew history. He wants the City Council to air another viewpoint, such as a film about the separation of church and state.

Most council members said they would have to review new material before allowing it on Channel 24, even though most haven't seen all, if any, of the five programs pulled.

They include “The Role of Pastors & Christians in Civil Government” and “America's Godly Heritage,” which intertwine lessons in American history with Bible scriptures.

The videos, and the request that they be shown, came from Councilman Bob McClellan in 2002. They aired regularly until Lutz's complaint.

“I think its important for people to understand the history of our nation,” said McClellan, who rejects the separation of church and state.

“There is no separation. If you read the First Amendment, you'd understand that. It doesn't say anything about separation of church and state.”

The videos are produced by Texas-based Wall Builders.

The group was founded by David Barton and is focused on “presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built,” according to its Web site.

Last year, Barton was named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America by Time magazine. He is politically active, having worked for years as vice chairman of the Republican Party of Texas.

Lutz said the videos promote religion, which violates city policy.

Three of the five council members – McClellan, Gary Kendrick and Mayor Mark Lewis – said the videos are based on historical documents.

Key point

A key point of the videos is to connect Christianity to government. In the opening of one called “Keys to Good Government According to the Founding Fathers,” Barton says America has been blessed by God.

“Ironically, in a nation once distinguished for its faith and made great by its people of faith, public expressions of that traditional faith are now viewed as a threat to government,” Barton says. “This is nowhere more evident than in our courts.”

In the video, Barton links a rise in teen pregnancy, divorce and violent crime to the 1962 U.S. Supreme Court ban on sectarian prayer in public schools.

Lutz is proposing a slew of changes for how Channel 24 is run.

He asked that his plan be part of yesterday's City Council agenda, but was denied. Lutz and three others still attended to voice their objections during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“This is the only kind of video they've had for four years,” Lutz said. “There haven't been any other points of view on. None.”

At least one watchdog group says the material doesn't belong on city-controlled TV.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the videos are better suited to public-access television.

“It's bad government to adopt this very controversial view of Barton's and then put it on a channel that seems to be dedicated to official government programs,” Lynn said.

Barton's supporters have pushed for his videos to be shown in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Lynn said, but he has “never heard of an actual city or county that has officially been running this on a government access channel.”

70,000 documents

Barton, who describes himself as a historian and educator, said his programs are based on the more than 70,000 historic documents and texts he has acquired over the years.

“We document heavily and we challenge (critics) to disprove us,” Barton said in an interview.

City Manager Kathi Henry said the final decision on whether to show the videos lies with the council, which is expected to discuss it later this year.

Henry, city manager since 2004, said she watched at least one of the five videos. Whether they are educational is debatable, she said. Henry decided they were inappropriate after receiving Lutz's complaint.

“It looked pretty clear to me that it didn't fit the guidelines,” she said.

No taxpayer dollars were spent to air them, Henry said, but Lutz is skeptical.

The city pays El Cajon-based Video Technics about $25,000 a year to record council and school board meetings, post city events and play tapes or DVDs.

The city extended the company's contract at least once, in 2003, to allow videos – including those from Wall Builders – to be shown.

The council agreed to show the videos in 2002. Councilwoman Jillian Hanson-Cox had not yet been elected.

Council differences

McClellan, an evangelical Christian, disagrees with Henry's decision to pull the videos. McClellan sometimes shows the videos during talks he gives on American history, and he has staffed a booth for Wall Builders at Christian Coalition events.

Councilman Dick Ramos said he objected to the videos from the start but was outnumbered on the council. Ramos said he only would support a neutral presentation of American history on Channel 24.

Lewis and Kendrick said they have seen some of the programs and defended their content. Both said they want to hear from the city attorney before deciding whether to continue airing them.

Ramos is Catholic. Lewis said he is a born-again Christian, and Kendrick calls himself an evangelical.

“From what I saw, it was a fair and accurate portrayal of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” Lewis said. “If you don't agree, just turn the channel.”

Kendrick said viewing the videos is no different than taking a college history class.

“Anything that doesn't profess hatred should be allowed some time on government access,” he said.

Lutz's complaint came a little more than a month before the Nov. 7 election, which includes runs by Lewis and Kendrick. Lutz denied any connection.

“If I would have known about this earlier, I would have brought this up earlier,” he said.


Liz Neely: (619) 593-4961; liz.neely@uniontrib.com

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Title El Cajon yanks religious programs off city channel
Publisher Union Tribune
Author Liz Neely
Pub Date 2006-10-26
Media Link http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20061025/news_7m25ecvideo.html
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Note Features Raymond Lutz
Keywords Church State Separation, El Cajon City Council, Government Access Channel, Local Politics
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Topic revision: r4 - 2009-09-18, RaymondLutz
 

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