Americans United For Separation of Church and State is a powerhouse, let’s just start with that. The CEO’s name is Rachel Laser which, if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is anymore, and the team behind her is a diverse mix of highly educated, passionate individuals. Americans United serves the American public as a tower guard from the effects of allowing too much political power to be held in the hands of organized religions.

A Quick Discussion on Church and State

America is a nation whose founders saw the complicated relationship between governing bodies and spiritual leaders. Many colonists came to America as an escape from the Church of England and for the opportunity to experience freedom from state established religions where religious leaders held power over the people in the same way monarchs did, whether or not they personally practiced that religion. Under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, in the Establishment Clause, American citizens are guaranteed a right to religious freedom. In fact, even prior to that the 1689 English Bill of Rights freed citizens from laws and mandates imposed by the Catholic Church. Religious freedom is a fundamental part of what America stands for. Separation of church and state means that organized religion will never dictate this country’s laws, that the people will always be the deciding force behind moral and ethical disputes in legislation.

How Americans United Reinforces the Barrier between Church and State

Americans United fights unjust or over-influenced legislation in the courtroom with lawyers, in congress through lobbyists, and in the community through grassroots advocacy. Their website documents all of the legislation that AU has worked on since its founding in 1947. The list is extensive but in order to get an idea of the importance of their work we are going to take a look at just a few here.

The Faith Based Initiative

In the early 2000’s George W. Bush fired off a series of Executive orders under the name of the Faith Based Initiative that allowed government partnership with church and community organizations to better serve the social needs of the community. These Executive Orders bypassed congress and constitutional protections, allowing government funds to be spent on religious organizations who were allowed to make religiously discriminatory hiring decisions. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives issued the report entitled, “Protecting the Civil Rights and Religious Liberty of Faith-Based Organizations: Why Religious Hiring Must Be Preserved,” outlining the Administration’s Faith-Based Initiative and setting out its ill-conceived arguments as to why organizations should be allowed to discriminate with government funds. AU continued to critique the Administration’s position on religious hiring, noting that Executive Order 13279’s protections for religious hiring by organizations receiving government contracts were unprecedented. Indeed, this Executive Order amended a previous executive order issued by Lyndon B. Johnson, which required all federal contractors, including faith-based organizations, to hire without regard to religion. The Bush executive order represented a drastic departure from existing law and a dramatic shift away from equality toward religious preference.

Religious Displays

Take a look at the change in your change jar, how much of it has “In God We Trust” stamped into the face? Should the government be making statements like this on federal buildings, seals, etc.? The AU says no.

“Government-sponsored religious displays introduce controversy on an issue about which many Americans disagree: religion.  America as a nation is extraordinarily religiously diverse. We come from many different religious traditions and some follow no spiritual path at all. The government’s decision to erect a religious display that represents some—but not all—Americans leaves many overlooked and makes many feel unwelcome in their own community.  The government should not place its seal of approval on any religious symbol, emblem, or creed.” –Americans United

Our beliefs can be a significant part of who we are, if the government pushes to add Christian prayers to a national WWII monument, they neglect those who died fighting for their country who believed differently. America has been demographically Christian for the majority of its existence, but in modern times, the ethnic makeup of America is far more diverse and the government needs to be able to serve its citizens regardless of their ideology.

Project Fair Play

Project Fair Play is an ongoing effort to support legislation intended to keep religious influence out of elections by setting a clear precedent as to how religious institutions that claim tax exempt status are allowed to conduct themselves with respect to elections and specific political candidates. Imagine walking into church on Sunday and having the pastor explain why Donald Trump is fighting for good Christian values and why you should vote for him in the coming election, or entering a mosque and listening to an imam explain why you should petition for Sharia in your community. Religious organizations and specifically their leaders, have the ability to affect the ideas of millions of Americans, the power in that alone is immense. But the AU is devoting the time and resources to ensure that politics and church leaders keep a healthy distance. The fight is ongoing as power hungry politicians continue to introduce legislation allowing religious institutions to take political stances, endorse candidates, and spend tax exempt funds on campaigns.

Fighting for LGBTQ Rights

Americans United is aware of the issues that present themselves to those of the LGBTQ community. Legislation based on religious ideas has a long history of being discriminatory toward these Americans due to their departure from the religiously accepted norms involving sexuality. AU seeks to break down the societal barriers that stand in the way of LGBTQ Americans in legislation. CEO Rachel Laser issued a statement in response to the news that the Supreme Court would be hearing Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia, a case in which a foster care agency sought government funding while being allowed to discriminate against qualified applicants who were LGBTQ. In her statement, Laser remarked that the city had done right in not allowing discrimination in a publicly funded agency. “Ensuring children have safe homes with loving families must be the number one priority for foster care agencies. That’s why no taxpayer-funded agency should be able to turn away qualified parents because they are the ‘wrong’ religion or LGBTQ…”

Reach out!

While Americans United does receive Private Funding, it still needs the help of the public to continue its mission keeping the church (any of them) out of your government. Here is a link to their Get Involved page where you can learn about the myriad ways that you can support them.

Thank you Americans United and keep up the good work.

Recommended Reading

Separation of Church & State: What The Founders Meant

Separation of Church & State: Writing on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders

The Prayer Breakfast