This week, I’m wrapping up about two years at Americans United and preparing to take a job with another organization. These have definitely been a challenging couple of years for church-state separation, but I’ve learned so much. I’m leaving with enthusiasm to continue building on the fight to preserve our religious freedom rights.
When I first started working at AU, it was an election year and a polarizing time for our country. When Donald J. Trump was elected president, with Mike Pence as vice president, I knew that we at AU had our work cut out for us.
But let me rewind a little bit: Within my first month of working at AU, Church & State Editor Rob Boston sent me to my first Values Voter Summit (VVS) – yes, I totally survived since I’m writing this blog post. That experience gave me my first in-person glimpse at the Religious Right, the movement’s tactics and overall “privileged-people-playing-oppressed” mentality.
As someone who grew up in a conservative religious Muslim environment and transitioned to identifying as culturally Muslim (alongside beliefs that Beyoncé and Tom Brady are close to demigods), I was not accustomed to seeing the fundamentalist Christian world up close.
As a kid, I knew that my religious beliefs were considered “other,” and that made me ashamed of my religious background and ethnicity. The Religious Right always contributed to that shame through its rhetoric, with many far-right media outlets such as Fox News collectively framing Muslims in a threatening manner.
So when I heard that right-wing conservative white evangelicals, who dominate the Religious Right’s base, supported Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” from entering the United States, I wasn’t surprised. Yet during the VVS, it was laughable that their leaders played the role of saviors.
Take, for example, Oliver North, a Fox News host. At the same event that Focus on the Family founder James Dobson said that Muslim immigration equals Americans wanting to commit suicide, North had the audacity to assert that Christians of his stripe have “become protectors of Muslim women and children.”
To this day, this quote strikes me as appalling because it dehumanizes Muslim women and children and subjects them to a submissive category of awaiting white Christian saviors who don’t even deem them worthy of entering the country. (Spoiler alert: we don’t need saving; we need you to recognize our humanity.)
This brings us back to Trump and how my first glimpse at the Religious Right’s tactics shaped my observations of the movement’s influence on far-right politics.
During his presidency, Trump attempted to ban immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries three times. All three times, I’ve seen the heartbreak and family separation his inhumane policies have caused. I’ve seen my Syrian friend lose family members during the ongoing war in Syria, with no pathways for surviving members to enter the United States for refuge. I’ve seen one of my best friends, an Iranian American, separated from her extended family because of the bans. The list of harms within Muslim communities and communities of citizens of the countries banned goes on.
Although a Supreme Court ruling kept the ban intact, I was proud to be working with an organization that sued the Trump administration to ensure that religious freedom is a right extended to all, not just some. Things like legal action, attending rallies and seeing the solidarity and the passion that people have to protect religious freedom for all have given me hope for the future.
Whenever I think back to my first VVS, I’ll remember how I wasn’t surprised by the movement’s blatant racism (more recently, their obsession with attacking NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem for the past couple of years), homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and more.
Yet, little did I know that the Religious Right would be Trump’s biggest supporters given that Trump is a thrice-married man who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because he’s famous.
Their loyalty to Trump has been rewarded in ways that continue to harm others. During my time at AU, Trump nominated two U.S. Supreme Court picks who are bad for church-state separation and religious freedom to shift the balance of the courts.
The Trump administration has also passed birth control rules that allow employers and universities to deny coverage to certain forms of birth control to others. I was proud of AU for suing the administration twice to challenge this rule.
And Trump announced a series of executive orders aimed to harm religious freedom. Recently, the Department of Justice formed a “Religious Liberty Task Force” that aims to enforce a Trump executive order that’s a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, women and more.
The list of how the administration misuses religious freedom to discriminate against others goes on and on, but one trait I noticed from the staff, activists and supporters at Americans United is resistance and a will to fight back. Whether AU is using legal or legislative resources, taking grassroots activism through protests or using our digital and print platforms to educate the public, the state of church-state separation and religious freedom is in good hands here.
I’ll certainly continue to build on my passion for church-state separation, and I encourage everyone to do the same. If you want to get involved, becoming a member of Americans United is a great place to start.