November 2012 Church & State | Featured


Folk singer-songwriter Tom Pacheco finds religion fascinating – and pretty daunting. 

“It’s like an ant at the base of the Empire State Building trying to navigate all of Manhattan,” he opined Sept. 28 during a performance at Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn’s house. “We’ll never figure it all out.”

Pacheco, a New York-based performer who has been at it since 1966 and who used to open for the legendary Jimi Hendrix, was one of more than 100 artists who participated in Voices United for Separation of Church and State, a first-of-its kind nationwide concert series sponsored by Americans United.

The event was held Sept. 28-Oct. 1 with at least one show in every state. Many of the shows, like Lynn’s, were at individual homes, though others took place at larger venues in major cities such as Washington, D.C., Nashv­ille, Tenn., and Los Angeles. 

The shows were well attended, and several AU staffers journeyed around the country to represent the organization, including Americans United Assistant Field Director for Religious Outreach, the Rev. Steven C. Baines, who spoke at the show in Nashville; AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper, who went to Montgomery, Ala.; and development staffers Marjorie Spitz Nagrotsky and Sarah Stevenson, who along with Lynn attended the show in Los Angeles.

SongRise Performs in Washington, D.C.

The theme of the concerts was “Take A Seat, Make A Stand” and the shows served primarily to raise awareness for Americans United’s issues. At a time when the political landscape in the United States threatens the very heart of church-state separation – with Religious Right forces trying to turn churches into a partisan political machine, the public school system under attack and interest groups seeking taxpayer dollars to fund religious schools and discriminatory social service ministries – getting the message out now was critical.

“This was a wonderful event,” Lynn told Church & State. “So much hard work went into this, and then to see how well it was pulled off, it’s really a delight. I know our message reached a large audience and I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Singer-songwriter Catie Curtis, a Boston-area performer who took the lead in producing much of Voices United, was equally happy.

“I am touched by all the work that folks did around the country to pull off these events,” she told Church & State. “Most of the hosts had no prior affiliation with AU, so we brought in a lot of new energy. We’re still getting reports from the hosts and the most consistent themes we’re hearing are that people had a good time connecting around their shared passions for music and the issue of church-state separation.”

The events ran the musical gamut and included performances in the genres of folk, jazz, blues, rock, classical and others. Slam poetry was on the agenda, too along with some comedy.

Voices United had a finale on Oct. 1 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles with performances by Curtis, folk singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier and comedians Russell Brand and Sarah Silverman. Silverman, an alumnus of “Saturday Night Live” whose credits include “The Sarah Silverman Program” on Comedy Central as well as more than two dozen films, and Brand, whose work includes the films “Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “Get Him to the Greek” and others, kept the audience laughing during their 30-minute standup routines.

Brand told the audience that he is a real fan of Americans United’s work.  

“I fully and wholeheartedly endorse this cause,” he told the crowd. “Thank you for coming and investing in something worthwhile.”