Religious freedom is a foundational American value. Unfortunately, religious privilege – the notion that white, Christian Americans hold a more entitled place in our shared society and a monopoly on our common values – is also an inseparable part of American history. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism and inequality. White Christian nationalists who believe America was founded for their benefit continue that harmful tradition.
It’s important for us all to remember the critical nexus between true freedom of religion and racial justice. Black churches and other minority houses of worship deserve the same respect and security as other churches representing the traditional white majority. Children of color, most of whom attend public schools, deserve an education that is funded fairly and equally, without taxpayer dollars being siphoned off to serve private, religious schools – many of which were founded as segregationist academies.
In the words of the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, a member of Americans United’s Faith Advisory Council:
“History teaches us that the strategic, political effort to use religious freedom to dispense and deny access to rights and services gained momentum in the wake of racial desegregation in the United States. In fact, we can go back even farther than that – white supremacy, from the beginning, was sanctified and affirmed by certain expressions of religion.
"So while our advocacy for racial justice must be a political reckoning, it must also be a dismantling of religious ideas and practices that give bigotry a moral foundation. An unjust social and political order reflects a deeply flawed moral compass. This is why we must preserve church-state separation.”