Editor’s Note: This post by Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of AU’s Church & State magazine. To subscribe and get Church & State delivered to your door every month, become a member of AU.
I wish I could tell AU’s founders that we are turning 75 years old. I imagine they would be so proud and also relieved, since they knew how important this organization is to American life and democracy.
Let me remind you about the impressive and eclectic group that founded AU in 1947. It included, among others, Charl Ormond Williams, an official from the National Education Association and feminist trailblazer; John A. Mackay, president of Princeton Theological Seminary; Louie D. Newton, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Elmer E. Rogers of the Supreme Council of Scottish Rite Masons; and the Rev. Clyde W. Taylor, secretary of the National Association of Evangelicals.
You may be thinking: “Wait – what?! The Southern Baptist Convention and National Association of Evangelicals helped launch AU?” Yes, they did. As I pointed out during my recent remarks outside the Supreme Court when the Dobbs abortion case was being argued, the Southern Baptist Convention celebrated the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 as one that advanced religious freedom. These groups were with us, but they have since defected to the other side.
Let this column be an official invitation to them to join us once again! As our Catholic plaintiff Aimee Maddonna likes to remind us: “If you don’t protect the rights of everybody, it sets a precedent that will eventually touch on you.” We have always been an institution that defends the rights of everyone – that’s why we’re aptly named “Americans United.” But at AU, we understand that there is no religious freedom if your “freedom” supersedes the freedom of those who are less powerful than you.
Unfortunately, as we enter our 75th year, there is an emboldened, thriving Christian nationalist movement determined to establish that America is and must remain a Christian nation founded for its white Christian inhabitants, and that our laws and policies must reflect this.
At the same time, today’s vivid display of Christian nationalism – from the Jan. 6 insurrection to former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn recently urging the United States to embrace “one religion” – creates an unprecedented opportunity for AU to grow stronger.
In honor of our 75th, we are launching a series of exciting new initiatives that will capitalize on this moment and build power for the future, and I wanted you to be the first to know about them:
New look, new logo, new tagline, new website: We are bringing AU into the 21st century with a new look and feel to expand and diversify our support. Don’t worry! You will still recognize us, but you’ll also see more human faces featured so it’s clear that our issue is not just a theoretical one – it affects real people and real lives. In February, we’ll unveil our new logo and announce a tagline. And (drumroll please) we’ll also debut a new, improved website that will make it much easier for people to access our many resources and understand us better.
Legal Academy: To safeguard our democracy, we must ensure that a new generation of leaders is best equipped to use the courts to protect the rights of marginalized people, including religious minorities and the nonreligious. That’s why next summer, AU is going to pilot the first-of-its-kind Legal Academy in partnership with several high-impact litigation ally groups. The Legal Academy will bring together a diverse group of legal interns for a week of skill, strategy and community building so that we can create a pipeline of litigators and judges who are best prepared to defend America’s promise of equality, including church-state separation.
Summit for Religious Freedom: Hold onto your hats, because the already amazing National Advocacy Summit of 2020 is going to transform into an even more incredible event! We’re calling it “The Summit for Religious Freedom” because we must reclaim religious freedom. We want this event to become the hub for the religious freedom movement, the premier national event for advocates of church-state separation. To give ourselves the time to make good on this new ambitious vision – and since it is virtual (sigh!) – we are going to move the conference from March to later in the year. Stay tuned and get excited to participate, learn and advocate before your members of Congress.
I’m honored to be leading Americans United at this critical moment. Thanks to all of you for being our most dedicated supporters as we hit this milestone!