“Wait, aren’t church and state already separate?” I’ve been asked this question many times; enough that it has inspired me to come work with an organization that has fought for 70 years to ensure they do stay separate. My name is Erica and I am the communications intern at Americans United for Separation of Church and State this spring.
The more I learn about separation of church and state and religious freedom at AU, the more I realize how much passion young people have for these issues. I spoke with members of Americans United’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) – a group of volunteer leaders who help AU with their youth programming and outreach – and they have been thinking a great deal about the work to be done since the election.
One member of AU’s YAC, Amanda Scott, told me she believes that young people are the future forces in protecting religious freedom, which is threatened on multiple fronts by the new administration.
“Not only is the progress we've made over the past eight years at risk, but all of the work Americans United has done in the past 70 years is at stake,” Scott said.
Pete Zupan, another member of YAC, is also concerned.
“The de facto Muslim Ban, the pending directives to allow discrimination based on religious values by federal employers, the ever encroaching dismemberment of women's access to healthcare, and repeal of the Johnson Amendment [which bars pulpit politicking] are all tremendously important for us to fight,” Zupan said.
The freedom that comes from having a secular government is incredibly important to me and everyone I work with at AU. It is now more necessary than ever to be aware of our right as Americans to be free from discrimination on the grounds of religion.
Personally, there are two issues that I am very interested in working on. The first is the U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch – a judge who has worked against religious freedom opting for the close entanglement of church and state that has become all too familiar in American rhetoric. This appointment will have long lasting effects on the Supreme Court’s decisions.
The continuing fight for church-state seperation and true religious freedom relies on the younger generation.
The second is President Donald Trump’s pledge to repeal the Johnson Amendment, something AU has been fighting to enforce for many years. I am so excited to be involved with AU because I feel like I can really make a difference, and I’m not alone.
Noah Fitzgerel, another member of YAC, said that fighting back and resisting are the greatest strengths of young people.
“Young people care about intersectionality and compassion,” he said.
Church-state separation is intertwined with many other issues that young people are working on, and they bring energy to each and every one.
Zupan concurred, noting that “students may play the most important role, as they have drive, passion and energy to be on the ground fighting for state-church separation.”
There are multiple ways young people can get involved with AU to protect church-state separation and religious freedom.
· Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Students for Church/State Separation Facebook page. Keep these important issues on everyone’s radar by sharing, tweeting, and posting from AU’s social media pages.
· If you’re a junior or senior in high school, check out our 2017 student essay contest, and tell us how you would address church-state separation violations that frequently occur in public schools.
· If you’ve stood up for church-state separation or religious freedom in your community, tell us about it! When you submit your story, you’ll be eligible to win our Youth Activist Award this fall.
Americans United has been around for 70 years, and we know that young church-state separation activists will be vital in the years to come.