In 2019, Americans United led the charge to fight back against intense threats to our country's fundamental principle of religious freedom the right to practice your religion, or no religion at all, as long as you don't harm others.
Many of these unprecedented attacks originated with the Trump administration, which has proposed countless policies that would misuse religious freedom to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, the nonreligious and many others.
From opposing the expansion of school vouchers, and exposing Project Blitz, to blocking the Denial of Care Rule in court and championing the Do No Harm Act in Congress, AU is ensuring religious freedom remains a shield to protect people and is not used as a sword used to harm others.
As we head into 2020, here's a look back at AU's top 10 efforts to protect the separation of religion and government in 2019.
10 Opposing The Expansion Of Private School Vouchers
AU fought multiple attempts by federal and state officials to create or expand private school voucher schemes that would divert taxpayer dollars from public schools to fund private, mostly religious schools that can discriminate against children and families.
President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed an education budget last spring that would divert "an unprecedented level of resources"--up to $50 billion in taxpayer funds over 10 years--to create the first nationwide, federally funded private school voucher program.
While their budget proposal didn't offer any details for this plan, DeVos endorsed a bill introduced by Republicans in Congress to create a federally funded private school voucher scheme that would redirect $5 billion in public funds every year to private, mostly religious schools. AU promptly exposed DeVos' lie that this voucher scheme wouldn't use any taxpayer dollars; fact-checkers also called her on this falsehood. So far, the bill hasn't gained any traction.
Trump and DeVos also proposed to spend $30 million for the Washington, D.C., voucher scheme--doubling the budget for the only federally funded voucher program. The funding for this program was running out as Church & State went to press, and AU, along with the National Coalition for Public Education, was urging Congress to end this failing program that is not improving--and may actually be harming--students' academic achievement.
AU also filed friend-of-the-court briefs in two federal court cases involving pro-voucher groups suing states to demand that taxpayers fund religious education. One case was in Maine. The other, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this month. (See "The Madisonian Ideal," page 16.] AU, along with religious freedom and public education advocates, has been sounding the alarm that a bad ruling in this case could lead to more taxpayer money funding not only private religious education, but other explicitly religious activities as well.
9 Protecting Religious Freedom For Louisiana Students
Americans United secured a huge win on behalf of public school students and families in Louisiana after negotiating a settlement agreement with the Bossier Parish School Board that ensures children feel welcome and included in their own schools regardless of their religious beliefs.
AU represented Bossier Parish parents concerned that their children faced religious coercion from public school administrators, teachers and coaches through multiple religious freedom violations, such as school events being held at churches or involving prayers as part of the official program; extensive promotion of religion within school athletic programs; teachers proselytizing in classrooms; and religious displays in classrooms and offices.
The district agreed to a settlement and, in a consent decree filed with the federal court last January, school officials acknowledged...