As part of the Summit for Religious Freedom, Americans United’s members and allies took to Capitol Hill on April 24. We were there to elevate the importance of church-state separation and advocate for the Do No Harm Act, a bill AU helped craft that would restore the nation’s leading religious freedom law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to its original intent and stop the misuse of religious freedom to license harm to others. We were fortunate to have Rev. Traci Blackmon, the named plaintiff in AU’s and the National Women’s Law Center’s lawsuit challenging Missouri’s abortion bans, speak at the Summit and then stay for lobby day.
And we had two surprise guests: celebrities Bradley Whitford from “The West Wing” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Amy Landecker from “Transparent” and “Your Honor.”
A little history: Amy and I went to middle and high school together. She is now married to Bradley. Amy and I were friends in school, but we didn’t stay in touch after we graduated. Of course, I followed her incredible career. When I saw her at a recent high school reunion, I wondered if she and Bradley, given the shows they were in, might want to work with AU on church-state separation. When I reached out afterward, Amy’s response was immediate and enthusiastic: “Yes! We talk about this issue all the time at our dinner table!”
Since then, Amy and Bradley have been amazing partners for AU. Amy rallied the support of 12 additional celebrities to help us make a star-studded video for social media announcing the Missouri abortion lawsuit and asking people to support Americans United. Bradley has been writing letters and emails we can use to build our membership. Amy and Bradley unhesitatingly took AU’s pledge for a national recommitment to keep church and state separate as soon as we created it and have encouraged others to as well. They’ve been busy sharing it on their social media accounts and promoting Americans United. I was thrilled when I learned they could join us for our Lobby Day.
Fast forward and picture this: Two celebrities (Bradley and Amy), a nationally known Black Christian pastor (Rev. Blackmon) and a nonprofit president (me) join two white Christian ministers and a youth organizer from Georgia in a visit with senior staff from U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s office. I open the meeting by telling the staffers about AU’s proud 75-year-old history and why we are here: to keep church and state separate and ask for Sen. Warnock’s co-sponsorship of the Do No Harm Act. Amy explains that there is no more urgent issue to saving our democracy right now than separating church and state. Bradley adds that both he and Amy have family members from the LGBTQ community and believe the Do No Harm Act is critical for their protection. Rev. Blackmon chimes in with her support for church-state separation: “It is impossible to have freedom of any religion if you don’t have freedom of every religion.” The meeting is already going great.
Then, the staffers specifically ask their constituents to describe why this bill is meaningful to them. AU member David Boyle, a minister turned professor, is a Boomer-generation native rural Georgian. He is gay. David shares that at the beginning of his career, he did government-funded social service work, running a home for troubled boys. That experience, he says, led him to become a social worker, then a pastor in Appalachia and eventually a professor of social work. David becomes emotional and his voice starts to shake as he explains that he might not have progressed through his career and helped people if he had been fired from the social service job that launched him. He was closeted then. He wants LGBTQ people to have the protection of the Do No Harm Act.
It was an emotional moment for all of us. There is nothing more powerful than human stories — especially when you are advocating for legislation.
After completing two lobby visits, Amy, Bradley and I said goodbye to our members and Rev. Blackmon and filmed a short video to promote AU’s “One Nation, All Beliefs” national recommitment to church-state separation campaign. (Take the pledge, and share it with your friends, at au.org/pledge!) They took some fun pictures with staff before they had to leave.
What an amazing day! Here’s to the critical role you’re helping AU play in creating a nation that is true to its founding promise of One Nation, ALL beliefs.
Rachel K. Laser is president and CEO of Ameri-cans United for Separation of Church and State.