Americans United leaders convened in Washington, D.C., in late October to honor the past, mobilize for the present and prepare for the future of protecting church-state separation.
AU's 2018 Annual Meeting brought together new CEO and President Rachel Laser and recently retired Executive Director Barry W. Lynn; freshly appointed board members and veteran AU advisers; youth activists and longtime leaders in AU chapters. They met to outline strategies, share information and figure out how best to defend church-state separation in a challenging political climate.
National news affecting religious freedom loomed large over the gathering, which began the day after an anti-Semitic terrorist murdered 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue and ended a week before crucial midterm elections.
"What an opportune moment for us all to be together," Laser said during her "State of Americans United" address. "We need each other. We need to know that others are out there in the trenches fighting for what we know is crucial to our country's wellbeing. So, just look around the room for a moment, take that in, and just take a little inspiration.
"I am humbled to be with you all today," Laser continued. "I am humbled to be leading an organization that we all care about so much at such a critical moment."
AU Board Chairman the Rev. Neal Jones said Laser has proven that the trustees made the right choice when they hired her in early 2018.
"Our expectations of Rachel Laser have been exceeded," Jones said. "We've been impressed by her courage and conviction as she has served as our voice against the discriminatory Muslim immigration ban, the disgraceful Kavanaugh hearings, the threat to end the Johnson Amendment's protection of the integrity of houses of worship and the dozens of other assaults on the wall of separation by this misguided administration.
"We're impressed with the public face Rachel presents on behalf of Americans United," Jones added. "But we are perhaps even more impressed by her behind-the-scenes work of [ensuring] that AU will be better prepared to meet the challenges of our changing social and political landscape."
Laser outlined several goals for Americans United, including "connecting the dots" between church-state separation and other social-justice issues, such as LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom, immigration and racial justice. Laser also wants to broaden and diversify AU's network of religious-freedom advocates nationwide, especially among...