Editor’s note: This blog post by AU President and CEO Rachel Laser originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of AU's Church & State magazine.
March 22-24, Americans United is going to host our first-ever National Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. AU Vice President for State Outreach and Engagement Sarah Gillooly, in conjunction with her department and many others at AU, is doing an incredible job of making the conference come to life. Space for the Summit is tight, so please head to our website at au.org and sign up ASAP if you haven’t already.
Why should you join us, if possible, and why is the Summit an important milestone for AU? I can think of a few reasons:
You’ll find your voice as a champion: Even for those of us who know how vital church-state separation is, it isn’t always easy to find the words to express why, or to make the case to others about why they should care. The Summit will help. You will learn more about the intersections of our issue with issues like racial justice and LGBTQ rights and the current legal battles we are fighting; you can attend workshops on storytelling and poll-tested messaging; and you will hear directly from some of our plaintiffs, whose stories shine light on the urgency of our issue. Then, you can practice being an advocate when you take your message to Capitol Hill (see below).
You’ll get inspired: These days, with constant attacks on church-state separation and many other essential parts of our democracy, it’s not easy to feel hopeful. But we cannot be change agents if we don’t believe we can make a difference. Come to the Summit to witness the energy, strategy and diversity we have on our side. I promise you will be in great company. Think younger and older people; leaders from the nontheist, faith, LGBTQ and racial justice communities; people willing to put themselves at risk and be named plaintiffs in our cases; and people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds from across the country who, like you, are some of AU’s most dedicated supporters and activists. We have time built into the program for you to deepen your connections with your fellow separationists.
For more inspiration, what could be better than our keynote speech featuring Jeff Sharlet (whose book on the covert Christian nationalist group The Family has been turned into a popular Netflix series) followed by a musical performance by Scarlett Rabe, a talented singer and songwriter who’s also a self-described intersectional feminist and humanist?
You’ll bring church-state separation to the halls of Congress: You all know separation of religion and government, the linchpin of religious freedom, is central to the American experiment. But too many people think that we secured it back at our founding and don’t realize it’s under siege. That’s why we have to make more noise! One way the Summit will turn up the volume on our issue is through our lobby day on Tuesday, March 24. Yes, AU’s talented public policy staff serves as a critical resource on Capitol Hill. But there is no one members of Congress listen to more carefully and enthusiastically than their constituents. I can’t think of a more important moment for AU activists across the country to take to our feet in the halls of Congress and speak truth to power about the importance of church-state separation.
You’ll be first to see our brand-new Visibility Campaign: You will be present as we roll out our first-ever National Visibility Campaign, designed to inspire a new generation of leaders to invest in our movement and fight back against religious discrimination. There is a lot more I wish I could tell you, but it’s a surprise! This I can say: There will be swag – lots of swag.
You’ll pump up AU’s staff: If that’s not reason enough, come nourish our hardworking staff by showing them your investment in our cause and AU and expressing your appreciation for all they do, because believe me, there isn’t a member of this staff who doesn’t pour their blood, sweat and tears into protecting our freedom of conscience.
Though planning the Summit is a large investment of time and energy, it has already provided a wonderful opportunity for cross-departmental collaboration and for AU’s staff to take pride in what they have accomplished. And that’s even before we get to spend time with you.
We can’t wait to see you there!