January 2019 Church & State - January 2019

Americans United In Action: Staff Members, Chapter Leaders And Activists Spread The Word About Church-State Separation

  Rob Boston

Americans United recently cap­ped another busy period of public activism on behalf of separation of church and state. Here are some highlights:

Rachel Laser, AU’s president and CEO, was in Chicago Nov. 16-17 for two talks during Rabbinical Heritage Weekend at KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue. On Friday evening, she addressed the topic “Taking a Sledgehammer to the Wall: The Religious Right’s New Attempt to Attack our Freedoms.” On Saturday, she spoke on “Church-State Separation and Ra­cial Justice: A Critical Nexus.”

On Dec. 2, Laser spoke in Washington, D.C., as part of Temple Mi­cah’s Sunday Speaker Series. Her speech was titled “The Critical Nexus Between Church-State Separation And Racism.”

Laser took part in a panel discussion at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Dec. 13. The discussion was titled “Still Rising: The Increasing Role of Women As Heads Of Religious Freedom Organizations.” Other panelists included Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Kimberly Colby, director of the Center for Law & Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society, and Satjeet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition. (To watch the event online, search YouTube for the title of the panel.)

Laser penned an opinion column recently that ran in newspapers nationwide. The column, which dealt with the proper role of religion in public schools, ran in several papers in November, among them the Charleston Post & Courier in South Carolina, the Tulsa World in Oklahoma and the New Orleans Times-Picayune in Louisiana. 

“Some may think that opposing official prayer in public school means that our schools must be ‘religion-free zones,’” Laser wrote. “But telling teachers and school officials that they can’t preach to their students does not in any way bar our educators from teaching about religion. Preaching and teaching are very different things.” 

Richard Katskee, Americans Uni­ted’s legal director, was in Phoe­nix Dec. 8 for a seminar sponsored by the Arizona branch of the Secular Coalition for America. The next day, he took part in a panel discussion sponsored by Americans United’s Great­er Phoenix Chapter.

On Nov. 15, Katskee was at the Uni­versity of New Hampshire Law School in Concord, where he spoke on a panel titled “The Meaning of Religious Liberty Under the United States Constitution.”

Katskee also published a column about the Bladensburg cross case on SCOTUSblog, a blog that covers the U.S. Supreme Court, in December.

Vice President for Public Policy Maggie Garrett spoke about the problems with vouchers during the Am­erican Federation of Teachers’ Winter Legislative Conference in Wash­­ington, D.C., Dec. 6. The next day, Garrett spoke at Columbia Law School in New York City at an event sponsored by the school’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project.

AU Faith Outreach Coordinator Bill Mefford hosted a webinar Nov. 13 for activists to discuss the threat of Project Blitz, an effort by Religious Right groups to push dangerous legislative initiatives in the states. AU’s Laser addressed attendees, which included many members of the clergy, to fill them in on how they could fight back.

AU’s associate legal director, Alex J. Luchenitser, participated in a Nov. 9 symposium titled “The Future of Religious Liberty in America” at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. The panel, “Establishment Clause: The Court is on Course to Revisit,” was moderated by John Malcolm, vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government at the Heritage Foundation. Other panelists included Allyson Ho, a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP; Robert Destro, professor of law at Catholic University, and Melissa Rogers, nonresident senior scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Eric Lane, chair of AU’s National Leadership Council, took part in a Nov. 13 debate in Georgetown, Texas, titled “Has America Ever Been A Christian Nation?” Lane argued the negative alongside the Rev. Rick McClatchy, Texas coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Pastor Richard Neusch of True Life Church in Round Rock and Perry Seale, an elder with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, argued the affirmative. The event took place at the Georgetown Library.

Not on our watch, Governor Landry!

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