Public Schools

My Internship Is Ending, But My Commitment To Church-State Separation Is Not

  Rebecca Rifkind-Brown

I have had such a wonderful experience this summer interning in the Americans United Communications Department. As an American Jew and religious minority, the freedom of religion, protected under our First Amendment, has always been super important to me. While anti-Semitic sentiment grows in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world, the separation of church and state in the U.S. also grows increasingly significant; it is imperative that the government not play a role in dictating its citizens’ religious lives, just as religious beliefs cannot dictate government policy or law. It was with this in mind that I began working at AU in June.

It has been very interesting to hear from other staff members and interns why AU’s mission is personally important to them. Whether it be their upbringing, religious background or personal identity, everyone who works here is united by shared values and goals.

In the last two months, AU has opened my eyes to just how far-reaching the issues of freedom of religion and separation of church and state truly are. I have always been passionate about reproductive rights and the right all women should have to access abortions or contraception regardless of religion, race or socioeconomic status. However, I learned that there are many other issues we need to watch. Religious Right groups have used their misinterpretation of religious freedom as a justification to push back on women’s rights and LGBTQ rights for decades, attempting to impose their beliefs onto everyone else – a trend that continues today.  

One of the topics that I have written about this summer and that I have found needs more scrutiny is the intersection between our education system and religion. Private school vouchers are one of the biggest challenges that our public school system faces. Voucher plans use taxpayer dollars to send students to private religious schools instead of helping to improve the public school system. Even worse, private schools that receive taxpayer dollars through vouchers have discriminated against students based on their identity. This should never be permitted or justified in this country.

Another issue within the education system, although there has been progress on this topic over the last few decades, is the continued controversy over the teaching of evolution at public schools. Many conservative evangelicals and Christian nationalist groups continue to argue for the teaching of religion-based creationism over science-based evolution. These are just two examples that I find best convey why church and state must be separated.

The work that AU does is always relevant as the Religious Right continues to attack the basic principles of our democracy outlined in the Constitution more than 220 years ago. I will take the lessons I have learned here this summer and keep fighting for the right of all Americans to freely practice their religion as long as they are not imposing those beliefs onto others. And I encourage other college students interested in protecting this fundamental right to watch AU’s website for future internship opportunities.

P.S. Although my internship ends today, I plan to do some volunteer work with Americans United this fall so you might see me on this blog again.

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