Americans United works with a vast network of allies to protect church-state separation around the country, and we honored one of those dedicated friends this week – Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network.

“The Texas Freedom Network stands for many of the things Americans United stands for – religious freedom and individual liberties,” said Eugenie Scott, an AU board member and former director of the National Center for Science Education. “And against the teaching of creationism in science class, abstinence-only sex education, vouchers and other religiously inspired campaigns.

“When science education standards, or history or health education standards, are being revised in Texas, Texas Freedom Network is there to help to keep religious ideas out and good scholarship in,” Scott continued. “Things would be so much worse in Texas if we did not have Kathy, her wonderful staff and Texas Freedom Network.”

Miller was awarded the inaugural Barry W. Lynn Defender of the Wall Award, named after AU’s executive director who retired a year ago after leading the organization for 25 years. Lynn was on hand to present Miller the award during AU’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., this week.

Miller noted that President Donald Trump and his allies in the far right are trying to redefine fundamental American values. She referenced the attacks by the president and his base on freedom of speech, freedom of the press – and freedom of religion.

“Religious freedom somehow now means the right to discriminate against those with whom you disagree,” Miller said. “The idea that a person’s faith allows them to deny another person’s humanity was, I thought, overturned when we abolished whites-only lunch counters. But I was wrong. Right now, we have a Muslim travel ban, we have an attorney general who cites the Bible to support separating immigrant parents from their children at the border, we have entered the era of so-called religious refusals.

“For too many people, ‘defender of the wall’ means something very different from what it means in this room, and what it has meant for more than two centuries of American history,” Miller continued. “That has to change. And we have to drive that change.”

She encouraged activism, and especially lifting up younger, diverse voices to lead the way. She praised Kaylee Cole, a Louisiana student who received AU’s David Norr Youth Activist Award for successfully challenging her public school district’s practice of promoting Christianity.

“There’s a lot to be done in this world by people like you, so I just want to say your bravery and activism is much admired and I hope you continue it for a very long time,” Miller told Kaylee.

Miller also embraced the long history of cooperation between Americans United and Texas Freedom Network throughout the latter’s 23-year history. “This partnership culminated in victory in 2017, just last year, when the last shred of anti-evolution junk was removed from the Texas science curriculum standards. Texas kids now know the earth is more than 6,000 years old.

“We’ve fought many battles together,” Miller said. “I believe this honor today reflects our shared values far more than it reflects anything that I or the Texas Freedom Network has done.”

(Photo: AU President and CEO Rachel Laser, left, with Kathy Miller of Texas Freedom Network.)