Dean M. Kelley

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Dean M. Kelley
Born (1926-06-01)June 1, 1926
Cheyenne, Wyoming
Died May 11, 1997(1997-05-11) (aged 70)
West Swanzey, New Hampshire

Dean M. Kelley (June 1, 1926 - May 11, 1997) was an American legal scholar,[1] religious freedom advocate,[2][3] author, and executive with the National Council of Churches (NCC),[4] where his work was mainly concerned with religious liberty issues.[1] He also served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).[2]

Kelley opposed a constitutional amendment allowing organized prayer in public schools, doubting that anyone, no matter how well-intentioned, was capable of writing prayers that would be acceptable to everyone and still be meaningful.[2] His 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches are Growing, is said by the Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics to be seminal in the study of the relationship of religion and politics in the United States.[5]

In Why Conservative Churches are Growing, Kelley pointed out what he saw as the essential difference between liberal and conservative churches: conservative churches concentrated on spiritual needs, liberal churches on political causes, which causes were better promoted by political organizations such as the Democratic Party and the Americans for Democratic Action. He also predicted the on-going decline of the liberal churches, based on his extensive research, and his conclusions earned him widespread opprobrium on the Left. The work contains a strong implied warning to those pastors on the right who would politicize their churches.

His 1977 study, Why Churches Should Not Pay Taxes, is considered "essential reading" for those who support tax exemptions for religious organizations, according to James Dunn, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.[3] Strongly supporting the separation of church and state,[3] he has said that the best thing government can do to help religion is "leave it alone."[6]


Dean Kelley was born on June 1, 1926 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.[2] He graduated from Denver University in 1946 and from the Iliff School of Theology, where he received a master's degree in theology, in 1949. In 1946 he married the former Maryon Hoyle. He worked as a minister for United Methodist churches in Colorado and New York until 1960, when he joined the NCC.[2][3] In 1964 he was chosen for a leadership and spokesman role by the coalition lobbying the United States Congress to defeat an effort to promote school prayer.[7] He died on May 11, 1997 in West Swanzey, New Hampshire.[2]



  1. ^ a b Steinfels, Peter (April 29, 1995). "Beliefs". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-31. "... highly respected legal scholar who handled religious-liberty questions for over 30 years at the National Council of Churches" 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Rev. Dean M. Kelley Dies. Religious Freedom Activist.". Washington Post. May 18, 1997. Retrieved 2009-05-31. "The Rev. Dean M. Kelley, 70, a United Methodist minister and National Council of Churches official who was a leading voice in the battle for religious freedom and the separation of church and state, died of cancer May 11 at his home in West Swanzey, N.H. He joined the NCC staff in 1960, serving as its executive for religious liberty until 1990. Since then, he bad been the organization's religious liberties counselor. He also had served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union. Over the years, Mr. Kelley had filed scores of amicus curiae briefs dealing with religious issues with the U.S. Supreme Court and other judicial bodies. He testified before congressional groups and wrote dozens of articles and more than a half-dozen books. ..." 
  3. ^ a b c d Niebuhr, Gustav (May 14, 1997). "Dean Kelley, 70, Advocate for Religious Freedom, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-31. "The Rev. Dean M. Kelley, a leading proponent of religious liberty who used his position at the National Council of Churches to speak out for the rights of religious groups large and small, died Sunday at his home in West Swanzey, N.H. He was 70. The cause was cancer, the council said." 
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics. Oryx Press. Retrieved 2009-05-31. "Dean M. Kelley (1926-1997) A liberal Methodist with ties to the National Council of Churches, Dean Kelley surprised the religious world with his 1972 ..." 
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics. Oryx Press. 
  6. ^ The establishment clause: religion and the First Amendment, Leonard Williams Levy, UNC Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8078-4466-7, page 143.
  7. ^ The fourth R: conflicts over religion in America's public schools, Joan DelFattore, Yale University Press, 2004 ISBN 0-300-10217-8 pages 115-116