As 2022 winds down, I’m noticing that I’m not as desperate to say goodbye to this past year as I have been to some other recent ones. This year, our country slowly opened back up again from COVID, giving many of us a reprieve from isolation and the same-old routines. The midterms gave us reason for hope. And Americans United, even in the face of external setbacks, grew and modernized in important ways. I thought I’d spend this column reflecting on some of the positives of 2022.
Americans United turned 75 this year, which in and of itself is an enormous accomplishment for a nonprofit.
It was an honor to celebrate this milestone with many of you in July in person, and great fun to create a video to mark the anniversary. A highlight of the celebration was honoring Ramya Sinha with Americans United’s David Norr Youth Activist Award. America will not win the battle for racial justice, religious freedom and church-state separation – three ideals that depend on each other – without courageous individuals like Ramya.
This year, we also debuted our rebrand of AU and launched our new website (to see both, check out au.org.). AU is now the first to pop up when people google, “Is America a Christian Nation?” Our website page views are up 59% over last year at this time, and the average time spent on a page is up 13%.
Alas, the Supreme Court revealed itself to be ruthless in decimating many of our core constitutional commitments, including church-state separation. Nonetheless, it was thrilling to watch AU’s Legal Director, Richard B. Katskee, argue the Kennedy v. Bremerton case so brilliantly. Also, our organization had great success in promoting an accurate narrative about the case, as we appeared in more than 200 stories about it. I am also particularly proud that the only local clergy that weighed in on the case supported the Bremerton School District and the religious freedom of the student football players. The idea of connecting with local clergy came from our recently formed National Faith Advisory Council, which is composed of an exceptional group of religious leaders working with AU and their religious denominations to protect church-state separation.
Even the awful Dobbs decision, which reversed Roe v. Wade and violated both religious and reproductive freedom, at least spawned an energetic wave of demonstrated support for both abortion rights and religious freedom. In the midterm elections, we saw voters affirm abortion rights in five states (including Kentucky and Montana) and predominantly (though not entirely) reject religious extremist candidates. We also saw younger people show up and vote in record numbers. The election validated what AU already knows: Younger people are worth heavily investing in because they are activists and fighting hard for a more inclusive America.
That’s why I’m thrilled that in 2022, AU not only welcomed our third class of youth organizing fellows but also launched the Legal Academy, which brought nearly 60 law students together from AU and 11 partner groups to support a new generation of litigators in shaping the law into the future. I attended the entire four days of the in-person Academy, and I can tell you that you would be so hopeful to know these future American leaders. We are keeping these students networked with each other and our generation of leaders through an alumni network and look forward to building on this very successful start of a long-overdue program.
The Legal Academy and Youth Organizing Fellowship are just some of the programs that the Next Generation Fund is supporting. Thanks to an incredibly generous match from loyal AU donor Barbara Meislin (affectionately known as the “Purple Lady”), which we have now met, this Fund has raised $600,000 of its $750,000 goal (for our 75th!). Please consider helping us blow that goal out of the water and reach $1 million dollars by the end of this year.
Last but not least, 2022 has finally allowed me to get back on the road and see firsthand our members’ hunger for activism. Please make plans to join us April 22-24 in Washington, D.C., for our inaugural Summit for Religious Freedom, so you can hear from the best in our field and educate your members of Congress about church-state separation.
Here’s to an even better 2023 for AU, and for each and every one of you.
Rachel K. Laser is president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.