June 2018 Church & State Magazine - June 2018

Americans United Staff Members And Activists Support Church-State Separation

  Rob Boston

Americans United staff members and chapter activists have kept busy promoting separation of church and state lately. Here’s some information about recent activities:

Rachel Laser, Americans United’s president and chief executive officer, wrote an opinion column for The Washington Post May 1 advocating for the idea of abolishing taxpayer-funded chaplains in the U.S. Con­gress.

“Despite our nation’s exploding pluralism, every congressional chaplain since 1774 has been a male Christian,” Laser observed. “Yet in modern America, the ways of relating to God are many and varied, and growing numbers of Americans choose not to relate to a deity at all. In this atmosphere, a one-size-fits-all prayer delivered by a taxpayer-funded religious leader isn’t just an anachronism. It’s an impossibility. In today’s religiously diverse America, government-sponsored, taxpayer-funded chaplains don’t unify; they often divide and perpetuate (one version of) Christian dominance in American religious life.”

Laser was profiled by Congressional Quarterly Magazine in early May. The article discussed Laser’s background and her plans to boost the profile of Americans United.

“I so deeply and profoundly valued [separation of religion and government] that I almost didn’t have a conscious understanding of how much I appreciated it,” Laser told the publication. “It was almost like taking your mother for granted – that’s how foundational it is to the country.”

On May 7, Laser took part in the Anti-Defamation League’s National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. She participated in a panel workshop titled “Resisting Efforts to Redefine Religious Liberty.”

Americans United’s Board of Trustees met in late April and approved a title change for Laser. Formerly executive director, she will now be known as AU’s president and chief executive officer. The Rev. Dr. Neal Jones, formerly known as president of the Board of Trustees, will assume the title of chairman of that body.  

AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett took part in the Education Writers Association’s national conference May 16-18 in Los Angeles. Garrett spoke as part of a panel that addressed the topic “The State of Priv­ate School Choice.”

Richard B. Katskee, AU’s legal director, was in El Paso May 17 for an event sponsored by AU’s chapter there. Katskee took part in a panel discussion titled “The Rights of Women, LGBTQ People and Religious Minorities Under President Donald Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott.” Susan Cooper of the League of Women Voters also took part.

Rob Boston, Americans United’s director of communications, attended the annual conference of the American Humanist Association in Las Vegas May 18-20. Boston gave a talk titled “The Religious Right’s Fake News: Why What The Theocrats Know Just Isn’t So.”

AU Faith Outreach Specialist Bill Mefford spoke at the Sparta United Methodist Church in Sparta, N.J., May 27.

The San Antonio Chapter of Americans United hosted the Rev. Charles F. Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, May 15. Johnson’s group is a statewide ecumenical organization that mobilizes the faith community to support public education. Johnson gave a speech titled “Vouchers: Public Classrooms for Private Profit and State Religion.”

AU’s Orange County Chapter in California presented a May 19 talk by Professor Kathleen Treseder on “Climate Change & What It Has To Do With Separation of Church and State.” Treseder holds the Ayala Chair of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine.

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