October 2023 Church & State Magazine - October 2023

Speaking up and fighting back: Separation of church and state is under sustained assault. Here’s why I remain hopeful anyway.

  Rhys Long

I spent eight weeks working in the Communications Department at Americans United this summer. During my tenure at AU, Christian Nationalist attacks were incessant; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of discrimination in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, book bans around the country have targeted LGBTQ+ voices, and a litany of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been proposed. The wall of separation between church and state is facing more attacks now than ever before. I’ll admit that I’m worried about the future, especially if these attacks continue at the same pace.

Raising up rioters: Christian Nationalists rally in D.C. in support of Jan. 6 insurrectionists (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

But I’m hopeful because with every attack against the wall of separation has come a rebuttal: Judges have blocked anti-trans legislation, communities have fought against book bans by donating banned titles and speaking out, and lawsuits have been launched against Christian Nationalist efforts. Around the country, good people have been pushing back against the forces of religious extremism, protecting the fundamental rights of the public. I have read and written stories that prove that America is not lying down in the face of Christian Nationalism but is fighting back.

My colleagues at AU have been leading that fight, and I could not be prouder of the work they are doing. I am in awe at the commitment of the folks here — across every department — to the ideals of religious freedom and tolerance. They understand the value of a secular democracy with church-state separation at its center. No matter how demoralizing it may be to see Christian Nationalists’ efforts and victories, my colleagues rise to the defense of liberty day after day with an unparalleled commitment to the notion of freedom without favor and equality without exception.

I am honored to have been a part of the fight against Christian Nationalism and to have done so alongside such a bright and talented team. I have obtained invaluable insights into the work required to keep our democracy functioning and our freedoms intact. I am stepping away from my AU internship with a renewed interest in keeping religion out of government and a new focus in my academic studies.

With my parting words, I want to give a reminder of just how important this work is and just how much there is left to do. AU’s newest lawsuit in Oklahoma is just one example. (See “Not OK,” September 2023 Church & State for more information.) But it is important to celebrate our victories, big and small. It is important to remain engaged and vigilant, remain hopeful and active no matter how many battles we win or lose. I will be a staunch ally in the fight for church-state separation for as long as I live, and I hope that you will be, too.

With the current Christian Nationalist efforts to ban books, push LGBTQ+ people out of society and create new religious public schools, much is uncertain. Our future is at stake, but with a concerted effort — thanks to the folks at AU and good people across the country — we can strengthen the wall of separation and shore up any cracks that Christian Nationalists may put in it. Of that, I am certain.  

Rhys Long is a senior at Brown University majoring in religious studies. 

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