March 2021 Church & State Magazine - March 2021

Separation: The Next Generation — Meet The Youth Activists Who Will Carry The Fight For Church-State Separation Into The Future

  Alicia Johnson

This month marks the midpoint of AU’s 2020-2021 Youth Organizing Fellowship, a year-long leadership development program launched last year as part of our com­mitment to mobilizing the youngest generation of church-state separation supporters and building a pipeline of leadership to sustain our movement into the future.

Our first-ever cohort of 10 Youth Organizing Fellows is a talented group of student and community leaders, policy advocates, grassroots organizers and change-makers from across the country.

As AU’s student network manager, I’ve had the privilege of training, organizing and learning with the Fellows for the past six months, and I’m so excited to finally introduce them to you. As you’ll read, they have diverse experiences and interests but also a shared vision of a country committed to church-state separation that protects all people, of every religion and none, no matter their race, gender or sexual orientation, to live freely and fully as themselves.

The Youth Organizing Fellows meet on Zoom each month to develop their advocacy and leadership skills and to strategize together. In between meetings, they organize (virtually) in their communities in different ways, such as training their peers on important legislation like the Do No Harm Act, building relationships with local groups, advocating for inclusive campus policies, writing pieces on current events and educating and mobilizing their networks through text and social media. They are focused on issues like public funding of public schools, LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom and the rights of non-religious people and religious minorities.

AU’s Youth Organizing Fellows know that the work of lasting change is both urgent and long. Together we are not just organizing for policy and cultural change, but also learning important skills and building networks that provide the support we need to sustain ourselves for a lifetime, while celebrating the wins and lessons along the way.

Keep reading to hear the Youth Organizing Fellows share in their own words what this program means to them, and keep up with their work at

Alex Jackson (she)

Pittsburgh, Pa.

“I am a first year Master’s student studying Public Policy & Management at Carnegie Mellon University. The time I spent as a leader in secular and interfaith spaces on my college campus and in my local community taught me the importance of church- state separation. I joined Americans United to advance policy that I know will be impactful, effective and needed for all, regardless of spiritual and/or religious beliefs. I still enjoy doing community-centered work but understand how much it is supported by strong legal protections. I’m grateful for the opportunity to build upon what I have learned as an activist and student in this position with AU as a youth organizing fellow.

Ariana Khan (she)

Canton, Mich.

“I am an undergraduate student at Eastern Michigan University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Statistics. I’m the daughter of two Bangladeshi Mus­­lim immigrants, and I hope to support the fight for religious freedom using data-driven arguments to uplift policies benefitting historically marginalized communities.”

Bryant Nguyen (he)

Orlando, Fla.

“I am a graduate from the University of Central Florida with a degree in sociology. During my time as an undergraduate student at UCF, I volunteered with many local LGBTQ+ non-profits in the Orlando area. Being an individual who is gay, I know first-hand the issues that Americans Un­i­ted champions with church-state separation. I joined AU as a way to learn ways to improve my leadership skills and ability to set goals while also achieving them with my community. AU has been a powerful tool and has molded me to be a smarter, more thoughtful and effective leader.”

Claire Davidson Miller (she)

Providence, R.I.

“I am a senior at Brown University studying Middle East Studies and Judaic Studies. I became a feminist in a fourth-grade Judaics class, questioning why women’s stories were so rarely told, and I’ve been an activist for women in religion and religious minorities ever since. Through the Youth Organizing Fellowship, I hope to educate other activists about the ways in which church-state separation actually underlies many of the most crucial issues we are fighting for.”

Jane Brinkley (she)

Eugene, Oregon

“I am a college freshman with a passion for reproductive justice and sexual assault prevention. I’ve served as a sex educator and activist for organizations like Planned Parenthood for several years; I joined the fellowship to deepen my understanding of issues that matter to me.”

Katie Fleischer (she or they)

Northampton, Mass.

“As a former Advocacy Intern at AU, I was immediately interested in how church-state separation can be used as a framework to work on multiple intersecting issues. As the head of the reproductive justice organization at my school, Smith Students for Reproductive Justice, and as someone passionate about LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights and access to healthcare, I am excited to work to advance church-state separation. I hope to help educate college students about how religious freedom issues impact all of our lives, and work with AU to promote the Do No Harm Act to prevent religion from being used to discriminate against others.”

Kevin Chisolm II (he)

Washington, D.C.

“I joined the AU Youth fellowship because I recognized an opportunity to learn skills that can make me a better organizer and legislative advocate, while learning about a diverse range of issues that affect so many people today. This fellowship gives me the chance to learn about how church-state separation affects women, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrant communities, disabled communities and more groups. As someone who is not a member of many of these groups, it can be easy not to think about these issues and just focus on the ones that affect me directly. However, I believe just focusing on issues that affect you directly can blind you from seeing the intersectional ways in which the oppression of one group can affect multiple groups. During my time as a fellow, I also expect to find ways in which church-state separation affects me directly. I will apply the organizing skills I learn during this fellowship to campaigns focused on furthering church-state separation such as webinars and workshops, as well as  other progressive issues I care about.”

Prin Ocea (they)

Tampa, Fla.

“I am a passionate advocate for LGBTQ+ equality, youth empowerment, and environmental justice. My motivation for joining the Youth Fellowship with AU is because I am a survivor of religious harm as a teenager, something that still affects me to this day. Religion should not be used to harm people, especially youth, or deny people equality and freedom. I plan to inform people in my community about the importance of separation of church and state for so many lives, the significance of the Do No Harm Act, and spread the message that our government should not place certain religions in higher respects than others.”

Ranen Miao (he)

St. Louis, Mo.

“As a queer person of color, I’m passionate about policy change because it can ensure legal equality and recognition under the law. Separation of church and state is necessary to protect the rights of religious minorities, LGBTQ+ communities, adults accessing reproductive health, and other marginalized communities. This semester, I’m proud to be working with NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri to advance the fight for reproductive freedom across our state and ensure access to reproductive healthcare for all. I’m so grateful to be organizing as an AU Fellow this year to continue advocating for religious freedoms.

Sophia Kics (she)

Notre Dame, Ind.

“I decided to apply for and join AU’s Youth Organizing Fellowship because I realized that I have been advocating for church-state separation for years without fully understanding the scope of Christian nationalism within all forms of oppression in this country. I am a leader of Irish 4 Reproductive Health, an organization that advocates for reproductive justice on the University of Notre Dame’s campus and in the surrounding community. Through this fellowship, I hope to gain a greater understanding of the scope of Christian nationalism specifically on my campus, and thus get the tools to fight it through the realm of reproductive justice to make Notre Dame a safer place for all students and community members to learn and thrive.”

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now