Mar 13, 2017

When I was in high school, I worked at a hamburger and ice cream place called Braum’s. I remember one really busy night – I was working the grill with about 30 hamburgers on it while dressing the cooked burgers and even getting drinks.

I was slammed. It was a Wednesday evening, what we called “church night” since members of church groups came in for something to eat when they were done with their services.

While I was busy cooking, a woman with a big cross hanging around her neck came up to the counter, slammed down her burger, which had been mostly eaten, and demanded either a new burger cooked to her specification or her money back, and she wanted it at  that moment. I was stunned at her belligerence and anger, considering that her burger was almost gone, but I was mostly ashamed. I am a Christian, and seeing the cross hanging around her neck made me ashamed that we shared the same faith. She was the perfect illustration of a Christian behaving badly.

If you're a faith leader, pledge to use your belief to lift up others' rights, not tear them down.

This is what, in part, makes me excited about the work we do at Americans United: We want to ensure that people have the freedom to believe or not believe whatever they choose while ensuring that no one is hurt by those beliefs. These days, the harm being done by some religious people is far more dangerous and harmful than just wanting money back for an already-eaten hamburger. Increasingly, we are seeing believers use their religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people, to withhold crucial reproductive services to women or to ban Muslims from entering the country entirely.

As a person of faith, I find these actions and others that are similar incredibly shameful and a betrayal of the actual faith that I and so many others feel called to follow. I remember the anger of that woman in Braum’s so many years ago, but I must not forget the larger number of people in the restaurant who were not angry, arrogant or selfish. There are many, many people of faith who find the actions of religious people using their faith as a thin veil to cover their prejudices and biases utterly reprehensible.

All Americans who support the separation of church and state, whether religious or not, are welcome to rally under AU’s banner. When it comes to people of faith, we call out to those who genuinely want to live out their faith loving people and lifting them up rather than marginalizing and denying services from others. We have created a network of faith leaders called Faith Leaders United dedicated to living out their faith while ensuring that religion not be used to harm others.

Thus, I am excited to invite faith leaders within the Americans United community as well as others who are new to us to sign a pledge with me. To be honest, I don’t sign many pledges. I am selective. But I believe that in the coming weeks, months and years of this current administration, we will need new visions, new connections and new leaders to help spur us on. This is one of those visions; a vision of a community of faith people who are committed to ensuring the freedom to believe or not believe as one chooses. We want a community of faith leaders advocating for justice.

Religious and non-religious people have been partners in Americans United for 70 years. At AU, we recognize the great strength that comes from having a diversity of opinions. If you’re not personally religious, you can still help by sharing this pledge with faith leaders you may know or passing it on to friends who have connections with faith communities.

The pledge reads:  

As a person of faith, I cherish the fundamental guarantee of the freedom of religion and belief. I share this conviction with people of all faiths as well as those who profess no faith. It protects our right to believe—or not—as we see fit and ensures we can act on our beliefs so long as we don’t impose harm on others.  Accordingly, I pledge to use my faith to lift up and encourage people, rather than tear down or demean. I pledge to use my faith to stand alongside all those whose basic human and civil rights are being denied, and to advocate for justice. I pledge to stand up for real religious freedom, and against efforts that would allow religion to be used to harm and discriminate against others.

These challenging times demand a collection of voices – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, Humanist, Atheist and so on that are united in support of freedom of conscience, a principle that can’t exist without separation of church and state. It is only together, regardless of where we worship or whether we worship at all, that we will draw the necessary energy, hope and creativity to resist injustice and ensure freedom for all people.