April 2021 Church & State Magazine | Featured

Americans United staffers and activists continue spreading the word about religious freedom and church-state separation in a series of virtual events.

Here’s a roundup:

Elise Helgesen Aguilar, AU’s federal policy counsel, took part in two webinars about vouchers early last month. A March 2 event was titled “When Communities Come Together: Supporting Public Schools,” and it highlighted the harm vouchers pose to religious freedom and why members of religious communities support public funding for public schools rather than taxpayer funding for religious education. 

Aguilar moderated the panel, which included Jennifer Hawks, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; Suhag Shukla, Hindu American Foundation; the Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Pastors for Children; and Rabbi Robert Barr, Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland, Ohio.

The next day, Aguilar was among the panelists for an event titled “When Public Dollars Fund Discrimination: How Private School Voucher Programs Harm the Students They’re Meant to Serve.” This webinar dem­onstrated that private school vouchers not only weaken public education but also fund schools that discriminate against students and teachers.

The event was moderated by Jennifer Berkshire, a freelance journalist and co-author of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School. Speakers included Aguilar; Titilayo Tinubu Ali, Southern Education Foundation; Myrna R. Mandlawitz, Council of Administrators of Special Education; Aaron Ridings, GLSEN.

Sabrina E. Dent, D.Min., AU’s senior faith adviser, was featured in a Religion News Service (RNS) story March 5. The story, by longtime RNS reporter Adelle M. Banks, dealt with a podcast called “Sister Act” that Dent does twice a month with Hurunnessa Far­iad, head of outreach for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, and Rabbi Susan Shankman of Wash­ington Hebrew Congregation. To listen, visit www. ­facebook.com/ ­Sister­Ac­t2020/.

On March 12, Dent took part in a webinar sponsored by the Ethical Society of St. Louis titled “Facing the Threat of Christian Nationalism.” Other panelists were Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Freedom, and author and researcher Katherine Stewart. A recording of the event is available on the Ethical Society of St. Louis’ Facebook page.

Rob Boston, AU senior adviser and editor of Church & State, addressed the Secular Student Alliance chapter at William & Mary Law School March 18. Boston discussed the importance of secular government in protecting religious freedom. Boston addressed the Houston Humanists March 20, offering an update on church-state relations in the post-Trump era.

On March 6, The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C., published an op-ed by Boston urging Congress to pass the Do No Harm Act, legislation intended to make it clear that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was never intended to allow religious freedom to harm others or take away their rights.

AU Vice President and Legal Director Richard B. Katskee was a guest professor at Yale Law School Feb. 23.

On March 15, Dr. Neal Jones, chairman of Americans United’s Board of Trustees, addressed a joint meeting of AU’s Houston and Roch­ester, N.Y., chapters. Jones’ address was titled “Religious Liberty: A Sword or Shield?”