February 2018 Church & State | AU In Action

Members of the American Uni­ted staff and activists have kept busy shoring up the church-state wall.

Here’s a round-up of recent activities:                 

Director of Communications Rob Boston met with a delegation of schol­ars from Georgia, the former Soviet republic, Jan. 23. The visit took place under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Former Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn was named one of several “Persons of the Year” for 2017 by Tax Notes. The publication, which focuses on federal and state tax policies, profiled Lynn for his many years of work educating Americans about the Johnson Amendment, a provision in federal law that prohibits houses of worship and other tax-exempt entities from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.

AU’s Legislative Department spear­headed an effort to debunk the claims of voucher proponents during School Choice Week (Jan. 21-27). Through a series of special blog posts, tweets, social media postings and graphics, members of the department set the record straight about vouchers.

The campaign also included a short video outlining the problems with voucher plans. The video was narrated by Alison Tanner, an AU legal fellow.

Legislative Director Maggie Garrett took part in a panel discussion about school vouchers during Creating Change, an annual conference sponsored by the National LGBTQ Task Force. The event took place in Washington, D.C., in late January, and Garrett’s panel was titled “Fight Back Against School Voucher Program Myths And Win!”

AU also had a table at the event to distribute literature to attendees and answer their questions.

Bill Mefford, AU’s faith organizer, took part in the Know Your Neighbor campaign in January. The project, sponsored by the Islamic Network Groups, was designed in part to encourage Americans to put aside religious differences and get to know one another as neighbors.

“Just as with other faiths, my faith mandates that my highest priority should be to ensure that all people are treated with respect and dignity and that their basic human and civil rights are respected,” Mefford said. “Any time people are belittled and attacked in the United States simply for what religion they profess, it is imperative for all people of faith to stand on the side of our neighbors. That is what this campaign is about and why I am excited to participate.”

Mefford also made a short video for the project.

In early January, Mefford traveled to Nashville and Knoxville in Tennessee, where he worked with interfaith groups as well as AU’s Nashville Chapter in a new effort to buttress support for public education and oppose voucher schemes.

Youth Outreach Coordinator Erin Hagen talked to several hundred high school students Jan. 16 during a panel discussion sponsored by the Close-Up Foundation in Washington, D.C. Hagen briefed the students on grass-roots organizing and offered strategies for effective youth advocacy.

Tim Ritz, AU’s assistant director of digital media and design, has been revamping Americans United’s website. The site is designed for smoother navigation and presents a fresher, more up-to-date look. It should be up and running this month. Visit the new site at www.au.org.

The Orange County, Calif., Chapter of Americans United met Jan. 20 to screen the film “Roger Williams: Freedom’s Forgotten Founder.” The documentary examined the legacy of Williams, a colonial era advocate for freedom of conscience.