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Freedom without Favor

Racial Equality

Race and Religious Freedom: Why Church-State Separation Matters

Just like many other freedoms, the promise of religious freedom did not extend to Black and Indigenous people at America’s founding. Racism has deep roots in religion. White evangelicalism’s intersection with racism is often traced back to the early 19th century when the split between abolitionist evangelicals and conservative evangelicals emerged. From the conservative evangelical movement (what we now call white Christian Nationalism) grew Jim Crow laws and the systemic racism we are fighting today.

“To put it more broadly, [Christian Nationalism/evangelicalism] is an Americanized Christianity born in the context of white Christian slaveholders. It sanctified and justified segregation, violence, and racial proscription. Slavery and racism permeate evangelicalism, and as much as evangelicals like to protest that they are color-blind, their theologies, cultures, and beliefs are anything but.”–Anthea Butler

Today, white Christian nationalists continue to use religion to justify their personal and political positions on systemic racism, critical race theory, misogyny, abortion, homophobia and transphobia. And herein lies the connection. When laws align with one religious belief system, these laws breach the separation of church and state. Without the separation of church and state, such laws advance systemic racism and unduly harm people of color.

The most important issues we're facing

What You Should Know

Threat to Racial Equity

According to a recent survey by PRRI/Brookings Institute, Americans who are supportive of Christian nationalism generally hold less favorable views of immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, and are less likely to believe that racism remains a problem in American society.

Replacement Theory

A high majority of white Christian Nationalists also believe in the “Great Replacement Theory,” a paranoid, acist, antisemitic assertion that elitist forces are working to “replace” white people of European descent with immigrants and people of color.

Rooted in Segregation

In addition to outright discrimination practiced by some private schools, voucher programs have a sordid past rooted in racism. Vouchers were first created after Brown v. Board of Education to help fund segregation academies designed to keep Black and white students apart.


    • January 2022

      AU, joined by the National Council of Churches and 17 other religious and civil-rights organizations urge the U.S. Supreme Court to protect religious freedom and not force the City of Boston to display the Christian flag.

      Read AU’s Press Statement

    • September 2021

      AU and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it will hear Shurtleff v. Boston – a case that could significantly endanger religious freedom and church-state separation.

      Read AU’s press statement.

    • January 2021

      The Biden administration ended the Trump administration’s Muslim ban that restricted immigration from Muslim-majority countries — a policy that AU and other leading civil rights groups challenged, but the Supreme Court upheld. Now that the ban is over, Congress must pass the NO BAN Act to prevent future administrations from banning people coming to this country based on their religious beliefs or nationality.

      Learn more about the NO BAN Act

    • December 2020

      White Christian nationalists desecrated several Black churches in Washington, D.C. Americans United condemned the attacks, because “the fights for true religious freedom and racial justice are inextricably linked.”

      Read AU’s statement here

    • June 2020

      Americans United filed an appeal in federal court on behalf of our client, Mark Janny, who is an atheist. Mark was jailed after he refused to take part in worship services, Bible studies and religious counseling mandated by his parole officer.

      Learn more about what happened to Mark

    • December 2014

      When a hijab-wearing Muslim woman was refused employment by Abercrombie and Fitch based on its “looks” policy, AU joined an amicus brief in support of the applicant. A year later the store settled the case, paying damages to the woman it had refused to hire.

      Read more about the case here

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    Congress needs to hear from you!

    Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

    The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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