We’ve said goodbye to 2017, a year I suspect few of us will miss.
It’s easy to get discouraged in these difficult times. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, often aided and abetted by their allies in the Religious Right, continue to besiege the church-state wall. But as we look ahead to 2018, I want to remind all of you that there is cause for optimism. Yes, we still face many challenges, and we can’t afford to let our guard down for even a minute. But when it comes to separation of church and state, the picture is not as bleak as some may believe.
Consider the following:
Trump vowed to totally destroy the Johnson Amendment – and failed. The Johnson Amendment protects the integrity of houses of worship and other tax-exempt nonprofits by ensuring that they do not became ensnared in partisan politics. Trump, likely prodded by Jerry Falwell Jr. and other Religious Right figures, blustered that he would get rid of it. Republicans in the House of Representatives tried to help by inserting language in the tax bill that would have undermined the Johnson Amendment. Virtually no one outside the Religious Right thought this was a good idea. Americans United and its allies rallied Americans and members of the faith community to stand up for the amendment. The version of the tax bill that Trump signed contains a lot of troubling ideas, but a repeal of Johnson isn’t one of them.
AU and its allies successfully rallied faith leaders to protect the Johnson Amendment in 2017.
Federal courts continue to strike down Trump’s noxious Muslim ban: On the campaign trail, Trump frequently spewed anti-Muslim rhetoric. Those crass quips are coming back to haunt him. Several courts have cited Trump’s tweets and speeches in curbing his various Muslim ban executive orders. (Some courts have struck the ban down on other grounds.) Americans United is among the groups fighting the ban in court. In our view, no person should be denied entry to America solely on the basis of his/her religious beliefs. We’ll keep stressing that point in 2018.
Trump’s offensive and short-sighted attempts to curtail birth control access are also losing in court. Safe and effective contraception is a fact of life in modern-day America. People rely on it. Yet Trump, once again acting at the behest of his Religious Right cronies, issued regulations that would allow nonprofits, universities and others to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage by citing religious or moral objections. Americans United (along with the National Women’s Law Center) filed suit to block the regulations. Several states did the same, and two federal courts have already blocked the Trump policy.
Roy Moore is not a member of the U.S. Senate: Alabama theocrat Roy Moore, the infamous “Ten Commandments” judge whose intolerant schemes Americans United has steadfastly opposed since 1997, undoubtedly thought he was a shoo-in for a vacant U.S. Senate seat. Many political observers agreed, but the people of Alabama had other ideas. They elected Doug Jones instead. Furious, Moore is now peddling conspiracy theories about how the election was stolen from him. But there’s absolutely no evidence of voter fraud, and an Alabama court has already rejected his lawsuit.
Resistance continues to grow: Trump is the most unpopular president since the advent of polling. One recent poll put his approval rating in the low 30s. Some polls have even shown erosion among his white evangelical base. Voters in Virginia and New Jersey rejected conservative candidates in November, a move many analysts attributed to backlash to Trump. Marches and protests are a common part of our lives. Every day, more people join the resistance to Trump and Pence and their reckless schemes.
Now, none of this means that we can be complacent. And Americans United, as a tax-exempt, nonprofit group, cannot intervene in electoral politics. But we can educate people about the issues, explain what’s at stake and urge folks to get involved and fight back against the Trump-Pence agenda. We spent the past year doing that, and you'll see lots more of it in 2018.
One more thing: This is the time of year when people make resolutions for the new year. I’d like you to consider one. Many of you reading this may follow Americans United on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Perhaps you’ve signed up for our email alerts. You may contact your member of Congress when we ask you to. Thank you for that. It is extremely important. But if you haven’t taken the step of becoming a dues-paying member, now is the time to act. AU is funded entirely by donations from people who believe in what we do. If I must say so myself, we do great work here – but it costs money.
I hope you’ll take the plunge and join us as we move into our 71st year of activism!