By Ruby French
Raised by a nonreligious father and a culturally Jewish mother, my religious upbringing was far from traditional. My mother’s family introduced me indirectly to the world of Judaism; through sporadic Bar Mitzvah and yearly Hanukkah celebrations, I dipped my toes into the sphere of faith.
When I was in third grade, I asked my mom if I could try going to Hebrew school. My freethinking parents obliged, and I began a fiercely independent journey into my own spirituality. As I got older, I became more and more involved with my local temple. At 12, I had a Bat Mitzvah, and at 13, I decided I wasn’t quite ready to leave the community I had stumbled upon. I volunteered at the religious school teaching Hebrew, Bible studies and ethics to third- and fifth-graders and remained in this position throughout high school.
Growing up in a small town in upstate New York, I became the resident Jew in a sea of Christianity. Once it was time for me to leave this little town for college, I was excited about the diversity on the horizon. In high school, the phrase “Yom Kippur” was foreign to most of my friends, and I was excited to meet people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds with whom I could connect and from whom I could learn. In my first year of college, I found the diversity of thought that I was yearning for and became a part of many new communities on campus.
Although my faith has become more spiritual than religious, I hold my Jewish heritage close to my heart. It connects me to my past and reminds me of the loving community that took me in as a young girl searching so earnestly for something to which I would belong.
I am so thankful for the way my secular parents handled my childhood wishes, and I feel extraordinarily lucky that I have had the freedom to explore religion without pressure or threats of discrimination. Unlike so many who have had to fight for the ability to pray (or not pray) how they want, I was afforded this critical right at a young age. I hope that someday all Americans can experience this freedom, to believe or not to believe in whatever way they choose. This is one reason among many why I chose to spend my summer at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Beyond my personal experience with religion, I am passionate about the intersectional space in which Americans United works. In a country where health care is increasingly politicized and religion is often used nefariously, it is more important now than ever to fight for the separation of religion and government. The rise of the Religious Right accompanied by the Trump administration’s attacks on civil liberties puts this idyllic balance in peril.
As a high school senior, I was mortified to watch as a reality television star stepped into one of the most influential offices in the world. As the administration has gained momentum and begun to systematically ignore the fundamental principle of separation between church and state, I have only become more afraid.
And yet I support Americans United not out of fear, but out of hope. I have hope for this country, and I intend on working tirelessly to ensure that all Americans enjoy religious freedom without the threat of discrimination. I believe in true religious freedom, and for that to exist, it must not be used to harm others, only to protect oneself.
I support AU because I believe in reproductive justice, a public school system free from religious indoctrination and the end of discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” I stand with AU because I care about creating a more equal and just society for all Americans. And you should too. Join us today.
Ruby French, a rising junior at Cornell University, just completed an internship with Americans United’s Legal Department.