Church-state separation scored some major wins in the midterm elections yesterday.
We saw historic victories by diverse candidates across the country – religious minorities, women, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color. Without church-state separation, which promises religious freedom for all, this wouldn’t have been possible. Some of those diverse new voices include:
- At least 100 women were elected or re-elected to Congress, including the first two Muslim women: Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Omar wears a hijab and came to America as a Somali refugee – traits that are also firsts for a member of Congress.
- Also elected were the nation’s first Native American women to Congress: Democrat Sharice Davids, who is also the first LGBTQ person to represent Kansas, and Democrat Deb Haaland of New Mexico.
- At least two other states also elected their first openly LGBTQ members of Congress: Democrats Chris Pappas in New Hampshire and Angie Craig in Minnesota. Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, the nation’s first LGBTQ senator, also was re-elected.
- A slew of statewide LGBTQ candidates also were elected, including Jared Polis, the first openly gay governor of Colorado – the same state that’s home to Masterpiece Cakeshop.
- Two transgender women were elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives – Democrats Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker will join Virginia state Del. Danica Roem, elected last year, as the only openly trans members of any state legislature.
The U.S. House flip in particular provides an important check on the Trump-Pence administration’s relentless attacks on separation of religion and government. Some noteworthy races in the House included:
- U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a Houston-area Republican incumbent of more than 15 years, was defeated. Culberson continuously waged war against the Johnson Amendment – the federal law that ensures houses of worship don’t endorse candidates.
- In Oklahoma, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Russell was defeated by Kendra Horn. Russell was the author of the “Russell Amendment” – an attempt in 2016 to sneak language into a federal spending bill that would have allowed religiously affiliated organizations receiving taxpayer-funded grants and contracts to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.
- In Virginia, Democrat Jennifer Wexton defeated Rep. Barbara Comstock. Wexton voiced opposition to legislation that would allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to use religion to discriminate against prospective parents and children in need.
- Several staunch church-state separation allies were re-elected. They include U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) – all sponsors of the Do No Harm Act, which ensures that religious freedom laws serve as a shield to protect, not as a sword to harm. Also re-elected was Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a longtime champion of preventing religious from being used to discriminate.
Other good news in the religious freedom realm:
- The people of Arizona, led by teachers and moms, stood up to protect public education by denouncing vouchers for private, religious schools.
- Voters in Rowan County, Ky., rejected the extremism of Kim Davis, who notoriously refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
But we still face some tough challenges ahead. Those aligned with President Trump gained seats in the U.S. Senate. This not only includes church-state separation opponents like Ted Cruz in Texas and newly elected Josh Hawley in Missouri (a Johnson Amendment foe), but it also means Trump’s attempts to undermine religious freedom through federal judge appointments will escalate.
Other concerns include:
- Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that amends the state constitution to explicitly allow Ten Commandments displays in public schools and government buildings as long as they “compl(y) with constitutional requirements.”
- Iowa Rep. Steve King was narrowly re-elected, despite criticism over his past comments and affiliations with white nationalism – an association that was particularly condemned in the wake of the anti-Semitic attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue just over a week ago.
- Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) – a strong proponent for public schools – was defeated. Donnelly was one of the Democratic senators from battleground states whose defeat has been linked to opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Other defeated senators include Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and possibly Bill Nelson of Florida. (He’s down by a narrow margin to outgoing Gov. Rick Scott and has demanded a recount.)
The outcome of the midterm elections doesn’t change our mission. Americans United will continue our work to support public schools, protect LGBTQ equality, fight for a woman’s right to affordable birth control, and end discrimination in the name of religion.
Today, we celebrate the victories we achieved last night. Tomorrow, the fight to protect religious freedom for all, not just a select few, continues – with even more determination. I hope you’ll join us.