I think most of you know that I am active in a DC advocacy organization called Americans United for Separation of Church & State (AU). Representing more than 300,000 supporters in all 50 states, including people of all religions and no religion, AU believes that the constitutional principle of church-state separation is the best way to fulfill our country’s promise of religious freedom. On September 14–15, AU hosted a National Advocacy Summit, via Zoom of course, to highlight our work to protect religious freedom, learn more about church-state issues, and receive instructions and inspiration on how to promote our cause.
Many of us who attended also participated in 104 visits to congressional offices and members, again via Zoom. Some members of MLUC joined me in visiting the offices of Pennsylvania’s two U.S. Senators, Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, as well as Representative Michael Doyle. We all asked for their support for AU’s Do No Harm Act, which, in essence, prohibits any government or private entity from using “religious freedom” as a justification to discriminate against others. Some recent cases of such discrimination:
- Denying employees and students insurance coverage for birth control
- Evading child labor laws
- Letting taxpayer-funded foster care agencies turn away potential parents
because they belong to the “wrong” religion or are LGBTQ
- Not paying equal wages for equal work
- Refusing to perform duties as a government employee
The First Amendment was intended to be a shield that protects your practice of your religion, not a sword to harm others who may not subscribe to your religion.
When I was growing up in North Carolina, segregationists often used religion as a rationale to oppose integration. They insisted that the Bible supports the separation of the races. Their religious freedom, they claimed, gave white-owned colleges, restaurants, hotels, and other establishments the right to turn away Black Americans. Today’s Religious Right, with support from the White House and a conservatively stacked Supreme Court, is trotting out that same, worn-out, discredited distortion of religious freedom to target their list of second-class citizens: women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people of color, religious minorities, and people of no religion.
It’s up to you and me to speak up and stand up for true religious freedom and to tell them loudly and clearly that their misrepresentation of the First Amendment was unconstitutional and un-American in the sixties, and it’s unconstitutional and un-American today. And the most effective way to speak up and stand up is to vote and get others to vote in this next election. I know it’s a cliché that we hear at every election that our nation stands at a fork in the road and that your vote truly matters. Only this election, it’s not a cliché but a reality. Our nation really does stand at a fork in the road and your vote really does matter. In fact, since you and I live in a key swing state that could literally determine the outcome of the election, our votes really do matter.
In his last message to us, Rep. John Lewis said, “The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society.And we must use it.”
Yes, let us use it,