Editor's Note: Allison Mahaley, a veteran of public education turned political activist, served as president of Americans United's Durham-Orange County, N.C., Chapter from 2015-2017. She remains involved with the chapter and spoke recently with Church & State writer Rokia Hassanein about her activities on behalf of Americans United.
Q: What made you want to get involved in church-state separation and religious freedom activism?
Mahaley: I was doing a lot of research about support for public schools, and as I started networking and talking to people about where the fight to dismantle public schools was coming from, I found out about [writer] Katherine Stewart's work and then Americans United from the local chapter here. I immediately got connected with Katherine and her body of work, and all the stuff she had uncovered about the Religious Right, and that led me down a rabbit hole.
I went to an Americans United local meeting and attended a training that [Legislative Director] Maggie Garrett offered. Maggie invited me to come to the national meeting, which was a couple weeks later. I was able to do that.
Q: Living in North Carolina, how did you lead the Durham-Orange County Chapter to build bridging relationships with faith communities, especially conservative ones?
Mahaley: I think that is something Bill Mefford [AU's faith organizer] has really helped us get centered around--finding commonalities and being able and willing to coexist around one point, even if we don't agree on some other things. It was really interesting to see what happened when our bathroom bill was introduced, and even though there were some very, very conservative religious leaders that came out in favor of that bathroom bill, far more religious leaders stood up against it.
Q: I noticed you met more social justice-oriented faith leaders like the Rev. William Barber II, who led Moral Monday marches in North Carolina. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? What is the importance of partnering with faith leaders to promote true religious freedom?
Mahaley: A picture of me with Rev. Barber was taken when I was sitting in the airport waiting for Katherine Stewart to arrive. So 15 minutes before Katherine landed, I look up and Rev. Barber is scrambling out of the exit, and there was no one around him, which never happens. I jumped to my feet and ran up to him and was like, "Rev. Barber!" He recognized me because I have been at so many of the Moral Mondays, and I said...