Jul 18, 2020

Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser released the following statement today upon the death of U.S. Rep. John Lewis:

“We at Americans United mourn the loss of Representative John Lewis, a legendary hero of the civil rights movement and one of America’s most principled and honorable public servants. At a time when a new generation of Americans is focused on the cause of racial justice, the loss of John Lewis reminds us of how much has been given and sacrificed in the movement toward equality for all.

“As a faith leader and student of religion and philosophy, Rep. Lewis was a staunch defender of church-state separation. He valued the moral leadership of the church, once describing it as ‘the heart and soul of our [civil rights] efforts because ministers had the moral authority and respect to stand against immoral and indefensible laws, bad laws, bad customs, bad tradition,’ and also noted that there must be separation between church and state.

“‘I think there has to be a strong wall, a solid wall between church and state,’ Lewis said. ‘I don’t want to see religious groups out trying to convert or proselytize with federal dollars.’ 

“Standing in solidarity with marginalized religious minorities and with women and LGBTQ people who were targeted by religiously based discrimination, Rep. Lewis was clear that religion should be a shield to protect, not a sword to harm others. 

“‘I will never understand what is so attractive about discrimination that people really want to be free to do it… As an ordained minister and a student of philosophy, I can say that none of the ‘great religions’ can rightfully serve as a license to hate,’ Lewis said when President Trump issued his ‘religious freedom’ executive order targeting LGBTQ people, women, the Johnson Amendment preventing houses of worship from engaging in partisan politics, and more. ‘Somewhere I read that all of the law and the prophets boil down to one guiding principle for human society: Love your neighbor as yourself.’

“Rep. Lewis’ significance in American history can’t be overstated. He cemented his legacy as an intersectional civil rights icon who worked tirelessly to ensure that every American is treated equally regardless of the color of their skin, who they love or what they believe. We thank him for including church-state separation and religious freedom among the important issues he championed, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his friends and family.”

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom. Learn more at www.au.org.