Frequently asked questions

Is Americans United anti-religion?

Not at all. AU was founded by people of faith. Today, we bring together people of all faiths and no religion. We’re united in the belief that being treated equally under the law depends on the separation of church and state. Religious Americans are welcome in our coalition and make up an important part of it. We are in no way opposed to religious practice; in fact, our work safeguards it.

Is Americans United opposed to people of faith serving in government?

Of course not. The freedom to believe as you choose does not stop when you participate in democracy or serve in public office. To shield our shared laws from any one religion’s influence, we oppose public policies that force everyone to live by the beliefs of some. We oppose religious extremists who attempt to insert their beliefs into our laws and public policies.

Does Americans United oppose particular politicians, parties, or political movements?

No. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization comprising people of many political beliefs. We fight in the courts, the legislatures, and the public square to ensure that religious extremists and their lawmaker allies do not use public policy as a license to force everyone else to live by their beliefs.

For example, President Trump’s alliance with White Christian Nationalists led to policies that weaponized religion. Those regulations allow any corporation to deny its employees the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit and allow federal contractors to fire employees who don’t conform to their religious practices. These policies violate the separation of church and state.

How does Americans United define religious freedom, and when does religious freedom veer into extremism?

The fundamental right of religious freedom enables us to live as ourselves and believe as we choose, as long as we don’t harm others. It ensures that people of all religions or none are treated equally under the law. The vast majority of Americans understand that freedom of religion is a shield that protects us all.

Religious extremists misuse that concept to attempt to force everyone to live by their beliefs. For example, religious freedom means everyone has the right to pray, but no one should ever be forced to join in a religious practice like prayer in a public space. That is especially true at a government-sponsored event.

The U.S. is notably religious compared to other developed nations - are you trying to change that?

We are not trying to (nor could we possibly) change people’s religious beliefs or practices. In fact, that would violate our core principle that everyone is free to believe as we choose. Our work reflects the foundational American value of the separation of church and state. A vast majority of Americans, from all walks of life and all religions, agree that freedom of religion is a shield, not an excuse to force everyone to live by your beliefs.

Why shouldn't churches and other houses of worship benefit from government programs designed to help nonprofits?

Religious nonprofits can and do receive funding for nonreligious activities. They must follow the same rules as everyone else, such as nondiscrimination protections, and they can’t use public money for religious activities.

Shielding our laws from any one religion’s influence — including the laws that grant funding to nonprofits — frees us to come together as equals. It also protects houses of worship from government interference. Simply put: Our democracy is stronger when the government doesn’t subsidize anyone’s religious beliefs.

Is anyone really harmed by traditions such as prayer in public school, at public-school football games, or at town halls?

Yes. People of all religions and none should feel welcome at public schools, sporting events, and government meetings. When the government sponsors prayer, it makes people feel excluded, divides us, and creates pressure to participate. Government-sponsored prayer isn’t about allowing voluntary prayer, it is about using the power of government to endorse religious practice.

The Constitution says that houses of worship and religious schools can choose their own ministers without regard to equal-opportunity hiring laws. Why are you fighting this exception?

The First Amendment’s “ministerial exception” grants some religious organizations, such as houses of worship and religious schools, an exemption from civil rights protections. This allows them to hire and fire their ministers as they choose. Yet some are trying to expand the exception to employees who have a minimal, if any, religious role. Freedom of religion should not be misused as a license for all religious employers to discriminate against employees whose jobs are not truly religious in nature and who may not share their beliefs.

Why does Americans United oppose vouchers for private, religious education?

Public money should go to public schools, not for vouchers for private religious schools. Taxes paid by Americans of all religions and no religion should not be used for religious education. Schools that accept private vouchers often turn away or expel children with disabilities, LGBTQ students, or students and families who do not adhere to the school’s religious code of conduct.

Does Americans United support exemptions from vaccine requirements or other science-based public heath measures?

While each case is unique, we generally do not support religious exemptions from public-health measures that could put other people in harm’s way. For instance, if a governmental body has determined that it’s not safe to allow exemptions from vaccination requirements, then it should not provide those exemptions for religious reasons either.

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