May 2024 Church & State Magazine - May 2024

Presenting the facts: Our congregation grew tired of seeing attacks on church-state separation — so we decided to do something about it

  Jean E. Feinberg

Many synagogues, churches and other community-based nonprofits have social justice programs, each in alignment with their missions and values. But it is highly unusual to hear of one that has taken on the challenge of advocating for separation of church and state.

This is exactly what Congregation Beth Adam in southwest Ohio has done. After serious deliberation, five years ago, this 270-member synagogue with a humanist approach voted to place this issue at the center of its social justice work.

A team of Congregation members meets regularly to discuss and act upon ways to educate and advocate for the maintenance of a strong wall between religion and government, and to sound the alarm bell about the relationship between antisemitism and Christian Nationalism.

Rather than allowing the COVID-19 period to derail us, team members used this time frame to create a 45-minute, imaginatively illustrated presentation. This talk lays out the origin of the concept of separation of church and state, discusses how it is embedded in our Constitution and explores how it has been defended during certain periods of American history. It also looks at the ways many people in our country are doing whatever they can to distort this history and intertwine religious belief with governmental and judicial actions and decision-making.

Since mid-2021, members of the congregation have given this talk, in person and via Zoom, more than 25 times to groups all around the country. We have presented in Arizona, Florida, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Minnesota, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, New York and of course Ohio. Thousands of people have heard our members, who are not professors of American history or constitutional lawyers, but ordinary – albeit highly educated and concerned – citizens. Most attendees are greatly appreciative of the time and effort Congregation Beth Adam is making to bring them the facts, while also passionately laying out the consequences of the current shift against separation.

In addition to presenting this talk, Beth Adam has submitted written testimony related to legislation before the Ohio legislature and published guest editorials and letters to the editor in our regional newspaper.

While the members of Congregation Beth Adam’s Separation of Church and State Team are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of this situation, especially for Jews in America, we are proud of what a small group of dedicated members has achieved in spreading the message that we share with Americans United.

Jean E. Feinberg is a member of Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland, Ohio. She can be reached at [email protected] for questions about Beth Adam’s church-state presentation.

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