Sep 26, 2016

One of the things I love about working at Americans United is the religious diversity, both among our staff and among the many people across the United States who fight alongside us for religious freedom for all people.

Though I know there are things we disagree on in terms of our religious beliefs, we are united in a common passion for a common goal – to ensure religious/philosophical freedom for all and to refuse to allow religion to be used to harm or discriminate against others.

Having a shared vision and shared passion is an encouragement to me to continue to pursue my faith with vigor even while strongly defending the right of those around me to freely practice their faith – or to freely practice no faith. This freedom was promised us by the founders, and it has been maintained throughout the centuries because many people, like you, did not take it for granted.

And it is what we celebrate this week during what AU is calling a “Week of Action.” The Week of Action is an important opportunity for all of us who care about religious freedom, especially in an election year when the issue of houses of worship engaging in partisan politics has become a subject of debate.

We’ve heard a lot lately about repealing the “Johnson Amendment.” This provision, passed in 1954, is called that because its sponsor was then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas). It states that groups holding 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status – a category that includes houses of worship – may not endorse or oppose candidates running for office. Despite this provision in federal law, I am sad to say that in recent years many of my extremist Christian brothers and sisters (though mainly brothers) have fought hard to make houses of worship centers for partisan politics.

This is a nice place to hear a sermon -- not a list of political endorsements.

We at Americans United believe this undermines the integrity of religion as well as democracy. Thus, we are launching a Week of Action as part of our Project Fair Play starting today. There are resources such as bulletin inserts (in English and Spanish) for houses of worship to use, and each day I am sending inspirational quotes from historical and religious leaders to AU’s Faith Leaders United network.

But all of us, whether religious or not, can engage in the struggle to maintain a healthy separation between church and state. Here are a few ways how:

* Join us on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 3 p.m. Eastern as AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, Legislative Director Maggie Garrett, clergy leaders and I host a roundtable discussion on Facebook. We will talk about how houses of worship can remain free from partisan politics while engaging on important social justice issues to protect religious freedom for all. Let us know you will be joining us and submit a question you would like to ask!

* Sign AU’s petition urging the IRS to more aggressively enforce the law that keeps partisan politics out of houses of worship!

* On Thursday, Sept. 22, we are asking people to write letters to the editor of their local newspaper urging Congress to NOT repeal the Johnson Amendment. This will be an excellent way to make your voice heard! Get tips here, and learn more about the Johnson Amendment here.

No matter what faith you proclaim or if you adhere to no faith at all, I hope you will join in this important week. We can share the same passion and the same vision: freedom of conscience for all!