This issue of Church & State went to press before the Nov. 2 elections, so as these words were written, it was unclear which party would hold control of Congress.
No matter how things shake out, you can count on one thing: Americans United will remain vigilant. We will continue to advocate for a high and firm wall of separation between church and state.
When Americans United was founded in 1947, the organization endured attacks from the right and the left. Some conservatives complained that AU was hostile to religion. Some liberals asserted that AU was undermining the growing ecumenical movement among religions.
As the years passed, AU continued to do what it was formed to do: advocate for religious liberty by upholding the separation of church and state. AU was happy to work with legislators in any party who agreed with that view.
In the 1970s, one of AU’s closest allies was U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin, a North Carolina Democrat, who helped stop the push for a school prayer amendment. A decade later, U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker, a Connecticut Republican, played the same role.
AU has always been non-partisan. It’s legally mandated by our tax status, but more than that, it’s the right thing to do. We want Americans from all walks of life and political persuasions to join this cause, just as we seek a broad coalition of religious and non-religious people. We do not want to become the adjunct of any political party. If that were to happen, you can be sure that sooner or later party officials, not AU leaders, would drive our agenda. This is unacceptable.
Americans United has lauded President Barack Obama for his appreciation of the wide religious and philosophical diversity of America and for his refusal to allow theological pressure groups to dictate issues that are best solved by the scientific community. At the same time, we have been critical of the president’s handling of the “faith-based” initiative.
Likewise, we have been critical of some Republicans who are close to the Religious Right – but not because they are Republicans. We’ve been critical of them because they have made proposals that threaten our freedoms.
Chances are, the Religious Right is feeling emboldened by the election results, with leading groups preparing new legislative initiatives. Some of you may feel discouraged by this. The answer isn’t to quit – it’s to fight even harder.
Political cycles come and go. Today’s winners can easily become tomorrow’s losers. Through it all, the core values of our Constitution must endure.
Defending them is our task. With the help of people of goodwill of many different political philosophies – and grassroots support from our membership – AU will meet that challenge every day.