Even as we keep physically distant from one another during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important that we find ways to connect with people and stay engaged on the issues we care most about – including the separation of religion and government. During good times and bad, we remain committed to defending the Constitution and its promise of religious freedom.
That’s why, over the coming days and weeks, we’ll be sharing recommendations of books, articles, podcasts, movies, and other resources you can check out if you have some extra time on your hands and are trying to keep occupied. Some will be serious, some will be more light-hearted, but all of them are offerings from our staff, supporters and friends to help us all make the best of these trying times – and come out all the stronger for it in the end. Bookmark this page and keep checking back, as we plan to keep updating it. And share your own recommendations here!
Monday, April 6, 2020
This week, we’re going to focus on some content from recent issues of Americans United’s Church & State magazine:
- The just-released April issue of the magazine takes a look at the question of religious tests for public office. At one time, many states had provisions requiring people to be Christians or even Protestants as a condition of holding public office. Learn what happened to these antiquated laws in this story.
- Did you know that eight state constitutions still bar atheists from holding public office? While these provisions can’t be enforced anymore, they came from a time when prejudice against non-believers was common. Is your state one of them? Find out here.
- Courtni Burleson and Ahmed Ali are Americans United’s newest employees. Find out what they do at AU and get to know them personally.
- The Supreme Court has accepted a new case that could make it easier for religious employers to restrict access to birth control. Read about it here.
- Like millions of others all over the country, the staff of Americans United has been working from home. That can present certain challenges. AU President and CEO Rachel Laser shares some reflections on that.
- Education researcher/writer Diane Ravitch has a great new book out about the importance of public education and the threat of vouchers. We’ve got a review.
- Finally, if you’re interested in the question of religion in public schools, the March issue of Church & State took an in-depth look at the issue. The cover story provides a short history of religion in public education, looks at several efforts to amend the Constitution to require religious worship in public schools and takes a look at where we are now. Other articles examine occasions when violence has erupted over religion in schools and debunk common myths about the issue.
A subscription to Church & State is included with your membership in Americans United. If you’re not a member and you like what you read, sign up. We’d love to have you!
Monday, March 30, 2020:
- Fans of podcasts might want to tune into this episode of NPR’s “Throughline” titled “Public Universal Friend.” It’s an intriguing story of religious freedom and a non-binary self-proclaimed prophet who challenged gender assumptions – in the late 1700s!
- Another NPR podcast, “Unprecedented,” covers the waterfront of civil liberties issues, including some episodes that touch on religious freedom.
- If you’re in the mood for a documentary, consider “We Believe in Dinosaurs,” which examines the conflict over taxpayer funding of creationist Ken Ham’s “replica” of Noah’s Ark in a small Kentucky town. The film’s website has information about how to stream it.
- For a more historical look at church-state separation and how it has played out in public schools, try “The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today.” This documentary takes an in-depth look at McCollum v. Board of Education, a 1948 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in one of the first legal battles over the role of religion in public schools. You can watch it here.
- Feel like reading? The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore is a brief but enlightening defense of our secular Constitution. For a book with a more contemporary feel, try Jax Wexler’s Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life, an engaging look at how radically inclusive pluralism is changing the church-state debate in America.
We hope you enjoy these resources. Stay safe!
Monday, March 23, 2020:
If it hadn’t been for the coronavirus, Americans United’s first-ever National Advocacy Summit (NAS) would have been well under way today. The event has been rescheduled for Sept. 13-15, but you can get a head start on things by checking out these resources from NAS speakers:
- Jeff Sharlet, an award-winning literary journalist, will keynote the event. Sharlet is the author of several books, including two about the secretive Religious Right group the Family. Check out The New York Times bestseller The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. Many of us are spending a lot more time indoors these days so now is a great time to binge watch “The Family,” the Netflix series based on Sharlet’s work. (Sharlet served as executive producer of the series.)
- Writer/researcher Katherine Stewart will speak on a panel about Christian nationalism during the NAS. Now would be a great time to read her eye-opening new book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. You might also pick up Stewart’s previous book, The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, an expose of Religious Right-led efforts to proselytize in America’s public schools. Stewart also recently wrote this piece for The New York Times (which quotes AU President and CEO Rachel Laser) about the Trump administration’s proposed rules that would roll back religious freedom protections for vulnerable people who rely on taxpayer-funded social services provided by faith-based agencies.
- The Rev. Kentina Washington-Leapheart, an ordained minister who currently works as a writer and consultant, will join her wife, the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, and others for a panel on the connection between racial justice and religious freedom. She contributed to The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle, which the editor described as “conversation with the psalms in this season of child separation and climate change and #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.”
- Robert P. Jones, the CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, is another NAS speaker who has published books. Jones’s The End of White Christian America is an interesting dissection of demographic trends in America and where they are taking us. Jones’s newest book, the forthcoming White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, is a powerful look at the disturbing relationship between American Christianity and white supremacy. The book will be released in June, a few months before the NAS.
- Not to toot my own horn too much, but I’ll be moderating a panel at the NAS, and I’ve written some books, too. Why The Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church & State debunks claims that America was founded to be a “Christian nation.” Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do, makes it clear that religious freedom was never intended to be an instrument to harm others or take away their rights.
- Take a break from all that reading by checking out singer-songwriter Scarlett Rabe, who will provide entertainment during the NAS. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter and check out her music on her YouTube channel.
We’ll be back on this blog from time to time with more ideas on how to school yourself about separation of church and state during this period of working from home, self-quarantining and sheltering in place. We’d love to have your ideas, too – send them to us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or send them to us via this form.