Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1926-1997) From 1990 until his death, served as Counselor on Religious Liberty to the National Council of Churches. Kelley received an A.B. degree from the University of Denver in 1946 and a Th.M. from the Iliff School of Theology in 1949. He pursued graduate work in sociology at Columbia University beginning in 1949. Kelley was ordained as a Methodist minister and served local churches in Colorado and New York.

Throughout his career, Kelley has combined interests in religious liberty and social science, creating a unique blend of academic work and public advocacy. His work in defense of religious liberty began while he was pastor of the Crawford Memorial United Methodist Church in the Bronx, when he organized a three-year study of church and state relations for the denomination. This project led to his being named in 1960 the Executive for Religious Liberty on the staff of the National Council of Churches, a position he held until 1990. In this role, Kelley organized a number of significant projects for the National Council of Churches related to church-state and religious liberty issues: a national study conference on church and state in 1964, a consultation on churches and tax law in 1975, and two conferences on government intervention in religious affairs in 1981 and 1984. His edited book Government Intervention in Religious Affairs (Pilgrim 1982) was a product of the first of these conferences. He also organized a Bicentennial Conference on the Religion Clauses at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1991. Kelley was instrumental in shaping church-state safeguards in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, organizing successful opposition to seven successive efforts to amend the First Amendment to permit prayer in public schools, and working with the National Council of Churches and the U.S. Catholic Conference to gain inclusion in the 1969 Tax Reform Act of provisions ending exemption of churches from tax on unrelated business income.

The more academic aspect of Kelly's career has involved numerous books and articles on church-state

issues and defense of religious diversity and liberty. Perhaps his best known and most widely cited book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing: A Study in the Sociology of Religion (Harper 1972)—which formulated the controversial thesis that "strict churches" were growing because they offered the more meaningful religious experience for which Americans were searching (the "strictness thesis")—has been actively debated in the social science literature for several decades. His book Why Churches Should Not Pay Taxes (Harper 1977) offered a defense of economic separation of church and state. With Charles Whelan, S.J., Kelley also directed a three-year Project on Church, State, and Taxation supported by the Eli Lilly Endowment. In 1979, he edited the November issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science on the theme, "The Uneasy Boundary: Church and State." At the time of his death, Kelley was working toward completing a five-volume treatise, The Law of Church and State in America (Greenwood).

Since the 1970s, Kelley has been an articulate spokesman for protecting the religious liberty of new and unpopular religious groups. Most recently, he has written articles critical of the federal government's role in the confrontation that resulted in the deaths of the Branch Davidian movement near Waco, Texas.

David G. Bromley

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