I was writing this column, I glanced at a picture I keep on my dresser of my son standing with his jazz band in front of their tour bus last summer – and I couldn’t believe that we are currently living in a moment where this type of human contact is dangerous. It’s surreal and unprecedented for all of us, and for Americans United.
On a personal level, my husband and I now have back in the house our three young adult children who would really rather be going about their intended lives in college and working abroad. And while I am sad they are experiencing this immense disruption (and hoping they don’t bring any COVID-19 home with them), I also cannot believe my luck to have all five of us under one roof again. We are navigating new terrain as we work and study from home and also once again share all of our meals out of one kitchen.
At Americans United, there have been many uplifting moments as I’ve watched our dedicated staff adapt swiftly and caringly to sudden changes. The tech-savvy among us initiated a helpful training on two online communication platforms – Zoom and Slack. Zoom, as you may know, enables you to “meet” through a video conference line using your laptop, phone, tablet or desktop. And Slack, which we already had but were not uniformly using, allows for interoffice instant messaging but also audio and video calls for small groups. It substitutes well for in-person work chats without clogging up email inboxes.
You see pictured here a screenshot of AU’s first ever all-staff meeting via Zoom, as captured for a New York Times story about working from home that featured my dog Teddy (and me). What this picture doesn’t convey is the group “wave” that we created, each of us from our individual “cell,” at the end of the meeting.
As a first time president & CEO leading in such uncertain times, I feel so fortunate to have a staff whose deep commitment to our mission and organization makes some of the typical concerns about working from home a non-issue. In fact, some of us might say we have never had more systems in place to ensure we stay in touch, despite being a highly functional office in the first place!
And it’s a good thing, because there’s even more to do than before. With things like President Donald Trump’s announcement of a National Day of Prayer in response to COVID-19 and rumors circulating about houses of worship hoping to secure government grants, AU now has the additional important task of making clear that mixing church and state won’t save anyone from coronavirus. We know that communities need support at moments like this, but we also know that we need to defend the Constitution – and the values that protect us all.
At the same time, we continue to litigate a dozen of our own cases, push back against many new proposed rules coming out of the Trump administration, fight Project Blitz bills in the states, grow AU’s digital presence and supporters and prepare for several high-profile Supreme Court decisions to come down that could reshape the church-state separation landscape, not to mention reproductive freedom, LGBTQ equality and public education, for decades to come.
Many of you are already aware that, in an effort to protect the safety of our supporters, speakers and staff, we postponed our National Advocacy Summit to September 13-15. The Outreach and Engagement Department has worked hard to physically and virtually pack everything up fastidiously so that we are ready to go in the fall. We cannot wait to see you all there.
It’s not easy to make lemonade from lemons during this period, but let me reassure you that AU is doing its best. After all, if there is one organization that has known for a long time how important separation (in our case of religion and government) is to protecting all of us, it’s Americans United! Please be safe, everyone, and stay (virtually) connected.
Rachel K. Laser is president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.