Editor’s note: This blog post by AU President and CEO Rachel Laser originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of AU's Church & State magazine.
Spring has sprung in Washington, D.C., and along with the blooming cherry blossoms, Americans United has some fresh thoughts about how in these modern times we can best achieve our vision – an America where everyone can freely choose a faith and support it voluntarily or follow no religious or spiritual path at all, and where the government does not promote religion over non-religion or favor one faith over another.
AU’s Board of Trustees and staff have spent much of the last year thinking about and planning for this future we want to create. We know that the clock is ticking, with the opposition chipping away at our freedom every day – in our private lives, workplaces, schools and health care systems.
We acknowledge that the next generation, whose energy could exponentially raise the profile of our issue and who are critical to the future of religious freedom in America, has not connected the dots between church-state separation and their priority issues like LGBTQ equality and reproductive freedom. The exciting news is that AU, with your help, is ready to address these realities, knowing every moment counts.
You’ll hear more over time, but in this column, I’m excited to share some of the highlights of our plans.
While Americans United has known for a long time that we need to shape and ensure the enforcement of public policy concerning church-state separation, now we want to make sure that we are simultaneously igniting a national movement behind our issue to bolster this work.
How can we best achieve our policy goals if we aren’t building an effective, powerful voice across the country to advance them? And, given that the president and U.S. senators play a pivotal role in judicial appointments and confirmations, how can we hope for the best outcome in the courts if we don’t have the influence to make church-state separation an important issue in every election and nomination?
It’s time for AU to focus strategically on our outreach and engagement throughout the country and to ensure that we and our issue are highly visible. We have thoughts about how to accomplish this, and they start with building state networks that offer our supporters a ladder of engagement.
We know, for example, that younger Americans are not keen on joining anyone’s chapters, and engaging them digitally is a first critical step. We also recognize that our resources are not unlimited, and therefore, that we need to focus on certain states, where we will pilot different ways of building people power and influence – and learn from testing different methods of doing this. One year at a time, we will add to these priority states so that, by the end of five years, we should have strong networks in 20 states. We also look forward to being in closer relationship with our active chapters, which will play a key role in building our movement.
We know we need to broaden and diversify our supporters in order to succeed. In addition to targeting younger adults, we must do a better job of reaching people of color, who will soon be a majority in our country. We will build black and brown allies in our youth-focused work, and also when we strengthen our already extensive ties to the faith community.
AU must be cognizant of demographic changes. The “nones” are growing in America, and they will continue to form a crucial bloc of our supporters. At the same time, with 70 percent of the country still identifying as Christian, we need to continue to build Christian allies alongside our religious minority ones. We must not let our opponents’ false claim that we are “anti-religion” continue to cost us support or scare our allies away from proudly standing with us.
We have our work cut out for us, but with renewed energy and direction, we are confident that Americans United has the recipe to move us effectively toward our vision.
What’s our secret ingredient? Quite frankly, you are. Your dedication and support has been, and will continue to be, the bedrock of the movement we will fortify. That’s why I look forward to the years to come with immense gratitude and renewed hope. Please stay close, and tell your friends about AU’s great work and critical mission. It’s time to make some more noise on behalf of freedom!
(PHOTO: Stanford University students met with AU staffers Samantha Sokol, far left, and Sarah Gillooly, third from left, at AU's headquarters in March.)