When it comes to separation of church and state these days, one word that seems to be in short supply is hope.
We’re facing a Supreme Court that’s steadily eroding the church-state wall. A resurgent Christian Nationalist movement is flexing muscle. In many states, appalling bills that would strip LGBTQ people of their rights, ban books and insert coercive religious practices in public schools, and threaten the very existence of public education continue to gain traction and, in some cases, become law.
But if you attended the Summit for Religious Freedom (SRF) this weekend, as I did, you’d be feeling hopeful now. First of all, the sense of energy in the room was undeniable. You could feel it, almost like an electric charge whipping around the room. As I surveyed the crowd – young and old, all races, all sexual orientations, all gender identities, a multitude of religious and nonreligious beliefs – I could sense the awesome power of a broad-based movement that is simply saying, “We’ve had enough!”
Progress Is Inevitable
All the speakers were amazing, but I found the comments by Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, to be especially inspiring. She reminded us that, as she put it, “Progress is never linear. … Progress isn’t a destination but a journey.”
More importantly, she reminded us that while progress is inevitable, it comes with a price. Some people will put their livelihoods, their mental well-being and even their lives on the line. But progress will come. And it is precisely because we’ve made so much progress in LGBTQ rights that Christian Nationalists are panicking, Johnson said.
“What are they afraid of?” she asked.” Young people who are comfortable with themselves? Young people who are comfortable in their family structures and the diverse family structures of their friends, who understand their history, who vote? Hell, yeah. It’s all an attempt to erase our voices because they know speaking our truth is power, and that power strengthens our cause.”
The Fears Of Christian Nationalists
Yes, Christian Nationalists are afraid of all of that – and more. They fear a changing America. They fear a freer, more accepting America. They fear the America we already are and will continue to become. They feel the ground shifting beneath their feet, and they fear being swallowed by a tide of change that rejects their theology of division and hate and topples their power – as well they should.
We know what Christians Nationalists fear – and that is what we will give them. SRF is just the beginning. Americans United is rallying a mighty force that will recommit this nation to the separation of church and state and explain to all Americans how so many of their rights – reproductive freedom, LGBTQ rights, the right to read and learn, women’s liberation, the right to question, doubt and reject the claims of religion and others – rely on the protection of a high and firm church-state wall.
Sign AU’s pledge to recommit to separation of church and state and religious freedom. Then roll up your sleeves. We have a lot of work to do.
Photo: Kierra Johnson speaks at the Summit for Religious Freedom.