On the November 30 edition of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, host Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America, falsely claimed that Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), has said, "if a church is burning down, the local community could not send the fire engine to put the fire out because that would violate, quote, separation of church and state." Robertson's comments came during a segment with Fox News' John Gibson, in which they were discussing the so-called "war" on Christmas and a perceived anti-Christian bias toward acknowledging the holiday.
On numerous occasions over the past several years, Robertson has accused Lynn of claiming that the Constitution prohibits a locality from sending fire trucks to burning churches (see here and here). But in a November 2002 "Memo to Pat and Jerry" written in Church and State, AU's official publication, Lynn denied the charges:
Robertson, for example, continues to tell national television audiences that I believe that a public fire department can't go to a burning church without violating the separation of church and state. He apparently uses this "anecdote" to demonstrate my radical, wacky beliefs.
Trouble is (for him), I never said it and don't believe it. Journalists who have heard the claim and bothered to research the point fail to find evidence of me saying it. The reason is that fictional attributions don't show up in Internet news databases.
Even the religious organization, Focus on the Family, has noted that this claim is false. A 2000 article in the Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine stated:
It also should be said that despite Lynn's often-bombastic rhetoric, he's been on the receiving end of some pretty strong language himself, some of it unjustified. (One Christian conservative leader [presumably Robertson] has mistakenly suggested that Lynn would say a burning church shouldn't be able to call the fire department lest it violate the bounds of church-state separation.)
From the November 30 edition of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club:
ROBERTSON: Barry [Lynn] is -- Barry says that if a church is burning down, the local community could not send the fire engine to put the fire out because that would violate, quote, separation of church and state. He is fanatical.