Governor defends state spending on papal visit after group complains

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has defended the level of state spending on the pope's October visit to Baltimore against charges by a national watchdog group that it violates First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom.

In an exchange of letters with Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Mr. Glendening said, "As with any major event, the state has an obligation to provide for the public safety and convenience of visitors. It is also important that we acknowledge and maximize the tourism potential of this event."

Mr. Lynn had written to the governor that he "was dismayed to read recently that Pope John Paul II's planned visit to Baltimore prompted you to remark, 'We ought to have a full partnership between the government and the church.' "

The First Amendment to the Constitution precludes such a partnership, said Mr. Lynn, who requested a clarification from the governor.

Mr. Glendening's statement had raised concerns elsewhere in the non-Catholic religious community.

"The governor needs to clarify what he meant by that remark, although I admit the tourism advantages to the state," said the Rev. Herbert D. Valentine, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore. "In a way, the state seems to be subsidizing the Roman Catholic Church."

Mr. Lynn wrote to the governor that his Washington organization was concerned that the state "may be inappropriately endorsing and promoting the papal visit through some of its actions."

Specifically, Mr. Lynn cited the establishment of a toll-free number by the Department of Tourism and Promotion. "Promotion of the pope's visit should be left to the Archdiocese of Baltimore."

Mr. Lynn said he doubted "that Maryland would set up a toll-free number to publicize a Billy Graham crusade or a convention of Jehovah's Witnesses."

But Mr. Glendening denied playing favorites with any religious group. He said the toll-free line "was put in place to help us deal with the large volume of calls we anticipated based upon our experience with other events such as the 1993 All-Star Game, as well as the interest in the 1994 papal visit which was canceled due to the pontiff's illness."

The cost to date of the toll-free line set up last year before the earlier trip's cancellation is about $4,500, according to the state tourism office. The number of calls received as of yesterday was 6,908, with no breakdown available between last year's and this year's calls.

Only 508 of the callers have requested information, a spokesman said, and they were mailed schedules of the papal events.

Mr. Lynn said he found the governor's response "not satisfactory."

Recalling that the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued Philadelphia for paying costs related to the pope's 1979 visit to that city, Mr. Lynn warned, "Maryland and the city of Baltimore must take pains to avoid the appearance of endorsing any religious event, or legal problems will surely arise."

Bill Blaul, spokesman for Baltimore Cardinal William H. Keeler, said of the toll-free hot line, "We view this as a much-appreciated public service on the part of the state."

The Rev. Charles R. Barnes, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said Southern Baptists "are traditionally strongly for separation of church and state," but he agreed with Mr. Glendening that this papal visit to Baltimore requires a church-state "partnership."

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