"Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils." bi These words were spoken by Roger Williams, the Puritan minister who founded Rhode Island in 1636 as the first colony with complete religious freedom. He was also the original author of the famous "wall" metaphor later adopted by Thomas Jefferson. Williams argued for a "wall of separation, between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the world."
Throughout our history, faith leaders--often Christians --have led the way in advocating for religious freedom for all, including non-believers. Another example is John Leland, a Baptist minister who provided crucial theological backing for James Madison's and Jefferson's strong support for religious freedom.
Leland famously wrote, "The [religious] liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians."
Imagine how radical that was for 1790!
In a 1965 interview with Playboy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., asked how he felt about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision ruling school-sponsored prayer unconstitutional, responded, "I think it was correct ... In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right
And, as you may remember, our very own Americans United was originally grounded in several Protestant denominations and was founded by Christian leaders who met in a Methodist Church in Chicago.
Times have changed, as has the country's religious composition. AU's make-up has evolved, and today our atheist, agnostic, humanist and religious minority supporters are counted among our staunchest.
Still, people of faith, and particularly Christians, are crucial voices for protecting the separation of religion and government in our country.
This is true for two reasons: their reach and their passion. First, according to Pew, over 70 percent of Americans are Christian (but note that white Christians ceased to be a majority in America starting in 2014). Christian leaders have a special role to play in convincing their fellow Christians that separation of church and state is vital to our country's fabric and, given today's politicization of this issue, also that there is nothing anti-religious or anti-Christian about it (quite the opposite, in fact).