The Separation of Church and State

How AU’s Youth Organizing Fellows are educating and mobilizing their communities 

  Alicia Johnson

While we’ve begun recruiting the next cohort of Youth Organizing Fellows who will start working with AU this fall, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the incredible work of our current Fellows! These thirteen young leaders are organizing across the country to host educational events, convene powerful conversations, and mobilize people to make change in their communities. 

Youth Organizing Fellows planning community events

Some of our Fellows have invited speakers to their communities to spark new understandings about church-state separation:

  • Leland Murphy hosted a panel of local advocates and leaders to discuss threats to church-state separation in Texas.
  • Laila Salaam showed a documentary and moderated a panel about anti-abortion fake clinics and how they’re part of the Shadow Network undermining church-state separation and reproductive freedom, featuring myself, Catholics for Choice, and GW Rage (and you can read more on this topic in her blog post)
  • Aidan Scully invited Bradley Girard from AU’s legal team to present on the ministerial exception and the rights of workers (a topic he also wrote about on AU’s blog).
  • Ivan Torres hosted AU’s Rachel Laser for a conversation about church-state separation on his campus in New Mexico. 

Youth Organizing Fellows’ events can take many different shapes – Fellows are encouraged to do what makes sense for them and their communities. Two Fellows, Billie Abdullah and Sebastian Mahal, have been incorporating conversations about church-state separation into broader advocacy to ensure access to reproductive health care and information on their campuses – ensuring that religious freedom is not misused to deny others reproductive health care.

Alex Santiago and Sarrah Livson are hosting events focused on interfaith dialogue, where people can come together across different backgrounds to connect around shared values and goals to protect religious freedom for all. Isabelle Philip has educated fellow youth organizers in Georgia on the importance of church-state separation in the context of their advocacy work, and Co Clark led a workshop on civic engagement for queer and trans people. Sofia organized a workshop focused on abortion justice and Christian Nationalism that incorporated a creative poster-making activity aimed at destigmatizing abortion. 

Youth Organizing Fellows mobilizing their communities to take action

As our Fellows move into the second half of the program, they shift from educating to mobilizing their communities to take action and influence decision makers. Just last week, Kalyn Mizelle McDaniel served as a marshal at a U.S. Supreme Court rally in support of abortion access (read her blog post about the case). Andrew Hartzler mobilized his peers to advocate at the Missouri state capitol against religiously motivated attacks on LGBTQ+ rights. And many more plans are in the works! 

Fellows also attend conferences with Americans United in order to develop their leadership and advocacy skills as well as serve as ambassadors for AU. One group attended Creating Change (and you can read about Sebastian’s experience at the conference), all of our Fellows were invited to the Summit for Religious Freedom (which Leland wrote more about for the blog), and others will be attending conferences throughout the summer.

Sharing stories and spreading the word online is also an important part of the Fellowship, and six Fellows took part in an Instagram takeover last month. Check out some of the highlights from Alex, Billie, Isabelle, Ivan, Leland, and Sebastian – plus a recording of Isabelle and Leland going Live with AU’s Andrew Seidel. And a lot of the work done by our Youth Organizing Fellows is less visible but no less important: reaching out to old and new connections and having conversations, week after week, with their peers, colleagues, and collaborators about what church-state separation is, why it matters, and what we can do about it. 

AU taking applications now for next YOF cohort

It’s amazing to watch what each cohort of Youth Organizing Fellows does to make this program their own and utilize the resources provided by AU to make change in their communities – and I’m excited to see what the next (AU’s fifth) cohort has in store too! If you’re a young activist who wants to get more involved in advocacy for church-state separation and have your own ideas about how to make an impact in your community, go to to learn more about the program and how to apply. 

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now