September 2016 Church & State - September 2015

AU Staff Members And Volunteers Promote Church-State Separation Nationwide

  AU admin

Staff members and chapter activists with Americans United spent a busy summer advocating for separation of church and state, speaking to allied groups and taking part in special events.

Here is some information about recent activities:

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, traveled to Indianapolis July 22 to take part in a panel discussion titled “God and Government,” hosted by AU’s Indiana Chapter.

Other panelists were Archpriest Stevan Bauman, senior priest at Joy of All Who Sorrow Orthodox Christian Church; Imam Michael “Mikal” Saahir of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center; David Sklar, the Jewish Community Relations Council’s director of government affairs and the Rev. Brent Wright, pastor of Broad Ripple United Methodist Church.

The event was moderated by Matthew Barron, a member of the Indiana Chapter’s Steering Committee.

On Aug. 3, Lynn traveled to Boston to attend a benefit event for Americans United hosted by Faith Soloway, co-creator and writer of the popular Amazon series “Transparent.”

During the event, folk singer Catie Curtis, who produces AU’s Voices United events, talked with Soloway about her experiences creating shows that represent LGBT and Jewish perspectives and the importance of art in social change. Curtis, the Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus and others joined Soloway in songs from her musical “Jesus Has Two Mommies,” and the song “Church and State,” which she wrote for AU. (You can watch Jane Lynch and Jordan Peele perform “Church and State” here.) The event, which took place at Club Passim in Cambridge, proved so popular that a second show was added. It was streamed live through the service Concert Window, allowing people all over the country to watch.

Maggie Garrett, AU’s legislative director, was honored June 18 by Georgia Equality for her work with legislators and coalition partners, behind the scenes and in public, to defeat HB 757, a bill designed to undermine LGBTQ rights. Garrett received the group’s Allen Thornell Political Advancement Award at its annual awards dinner.

In a statement, Georgia Equality identified Garrett as “the most responsive attorney in reviewing legislative language” they’ve ever worked with, and praised her for her diligence and dedication to the First Amendment.

Garrett also spoke on a panel about the Do No Harm Act in Washington, D.C. June 20 at the Hindu American Foundation’s annual conference. And she spoke at both the Secular Student Alliance’s annual conference July 8 in Columbus and the Equality Federation’s Leadership Conference in Portland, Oregon, July 15 about work AU is doing with its Protect Thy Neighbor campaign.

Garrett and Amrita Singh, AU’s state legislative counsel, attended the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Legislative Summit in Chicago Aug. 8-11. They met with lawmakers from around the country to discuss AU’s work, especially Protect Thy Neighbor, and distributed pocket U.S. Constitutions and AU’s advocacy materials.

Legislative Assistant Director Dena Sher spoke at the Transgender Law Institute at the National LGBT Bar Association’s Lavender Law 2016 in Washington, D.C., Aug. 6. Sher took part in a panel discussion that focused on the intersections between transgender advocacy and work to advance other civil liberties and civil rights.

Erin Hagen, AU’s field associate, ran an informational table for Americans United at Netroots Nation, the largest progressive political gathering in the nation. The event, which ran July 14-17, took place in St. Louis.

Legal Director Richard B. Katskee taught a course for Street Law’s Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers in late June. The classes, which take place in Washington, D.C., are intended to provide educators with information about legal cases that are relevant to their work. Katskee provided a briefing on church-state law.

Katskee submitted a legal analysis of an upcoming Supreme Court case, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, to the popular SCOTUSBlog Aug. 11. The blog, which features reporting about Supreme Court cases, is widely read in legal circles. (The case concerns a church in Missouri that is demanding tax aid to improve the playground of its religious pre-school.)

On Aug. 2, AU’s San Antonio Chapter organized a press event featuring a collection of interfaith religious leaders who warned about the dangers of church politicking. Speakers at the event, which took place in front of the Bexar County Courthouse, promoted AU’s Project Fair Play, which educates clergy and congregants about what federal law requires regarding churches and politics.

Eric Lane, president of the San Antonio Chapter, penned an op-ed for the San Antonio Express-News Aug. 7. The piece provided the history of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Lane wrote that passage of that legislation “was a singular event in history” that “marks when freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state became real in the United States.”

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