The other day, I was telling someone what I do, and the person responded--not atypically--by asking if all of our supporters are atheists and religious minorities. Actually, no, I replied, and I smiled thinking of a letter I had recently received from one of our members.
The letter told the story of how, in 1969, he had obtained a court order allowing him to be admitted to the Alabama Bar without saying "so help me, God" at the end of the oath of office. In his own words: "The refusal was because I considered, as used in this context, these words to be very un-Christian." His view, he explained, was based on the following words, attributed to Jesus in the New Testament: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and to God the things which are God's." Our supporter said he believes so deeply in this idea that he plans for this statement to be read at his funeral and to be written (in "condensed version") on his tombstone.
People support our cause for a variety of reasons, which makes "Americans United" a fitting name. Some are proponents of public schools and oppose vouchers. Some care most about protecting reproductive freedom and/or LGBTQ equality and want to make sure the government doesn't allow religious views to undermine these goals. Some value all forms of diversity in our country, including religious diversity, and equal opportunity for all. Others belong to minority faiths or are atheists. And yes, others, like our member who wrote to me last week, support our cause because they are religious and believe that church-state separation is key to protecting and preserving their faith.
I had the opportunity to speak to this last point last month, when I was honored to be the annual speaker for the Glazer Institute, the longest-running interfaith institute in the country housed at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
The key arguments I made to the audience of interfaith clergy and lay people were:
It's best for religion if people come to their beliefs on their own. As Roger Williams, the Baptist theologian who founded Rhode Island in 1636 as the first colony with the separation of church and state, put it: "Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God."
Church-state separation prevents the government from perverting religion or co-opting it for political purposes. A great example is the Bladensburg cross, which is the subject of a current Supreme Court case. A group of Christian...