July/August 2018 Church & State Magazine - July/August 2018

A Month Of Action In A Lifetime Of Commitment

  Rachel Laser

What a month June was! From marching in Washington, D.C.’s pride parade, to deciphering the Supreme Court’s odd decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop to speaking out against the Court’s abhorrent ruling in the Muslim ban case, the entire staff has been incredibly hard at work.

There is so much to say about each of these moments, but perhaps most interesting is what they have in common. At heart, they all connect to today’s emboldened movement to use religion to stop America’s steady progress toward its most inclusive self. And they all relate to that same movement’s desire to assert the dominance of far-right evangelical Christians.         

Americans United joined the Capital Pride festivities because we wanted to make clear that religion should never be used to discriminate against or cause harm to our LGBTQ family, supporters and neighbors. Our banner and T-shirts read: “Keep your dogma off my rights!” And the crowd’s whoops and cheers as we marched by made clear that they strongly agreed. No one needs to explain to any member of the LGBTQ community that “religious freedom” is being politicized to privilege one religious group’s particular viewpoint and deny them full equality.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case is an outgrowth of the legal arm of this same movement. Brought by a Religious Right legal group, Masterpiece was an attempt to get our highest court to assert that free exercise of one’s religion means a business can refuse to serve people based on their sexual orientation – even if a state non-discrimination law is in place.

Even though the court technically ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop (on the grounds that there was animus towards the baker’s religion during his hearing before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission), the decision also affirmed: “[I]t is a general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”

Although this case represents a strange sort of “win” for inclusion, it is also just one of a slew of such legal challenges the Religious Right continues to bring arguing for a business’s right to use religion to discriminate. In essence, these cases seek to codify one set of religious beliefs as being supreme over all belief systems, including American law!

So how does the Muslim ban case relate to these first two examples? The Muslim ban fulfills President Donald Trump’s campaign promise of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims.” It blocks those who do not fit into the narrow vision of a white Christian America from coming to our country.          

The court’s decision to allow the ban to stand is a tragedy for the many Muslims who are separated from their loved ones, and a stain on our country. I have no doubt that history will judge this shameful ban for what it is: an effort to narrow the space for religious diversity in our society.

At the time of this writing, our talented and dedicated staff and many interns were still recovering from rallying outside of the Supreme Court all morning in the hot sun, standing with our Muslim and other allies to protest the court’s ruling. This is what I wrote to them that evening, referencing my much-needed earlier trip to Dunkin’ Donuts:

“My lame attempt to feed you all donuts (the Jewish mother in me, I admit) could not adequately thank everyone for your hard work, or console everyone about today’s decision. In moments like this, we must remind ourselves that our individual efforts, even more so when they are all coordinating as they did today, really matter in this battle we are waging over America’s soul. You all have an incredible amount to contribute, and you are doing it. This is what is going to change the tides in our country. So, go home, rest, put some aloe on your sunburns, hydrate and allow yourselves some space to feel sad today, because tomorrow there is even more to do. And this country needs you all badly.”

We need you all badly too. Keep fighting.

Rachel K. Laser is president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Rachel Laser speaking outside the Supreme Court during Masterpiece Cakeshop rally

(Photo: AU President and CEO Rachel Laser speaks at a rally outside the Supreme Court after the Masterpiece Cakeshop opinion was announced.)

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