Today is #GivingTuesday, an international day of philanthropy that kicks off the charitable season. Thanks to generous gifts from our supporters on #GivingTuesday and throughout the year, Americans United has been able to continue to fight against attacks on religious freedom.
Although it’s been a challenging year for church-state separation advocates, we at Americans United have much to be thankful for. Not only do we have dedicated members and supporters, but there are brave citizens who’ve been willing to speak up when government officials, ranging from the Trump-Pence administration to county clerks and commissioners, have trampled their rights.
Graduate students working toward their degrees, a same-sex couple seeking a marriage license, immigrants trying to reunite with family members – all of these people were living their lives until government officials tried to infringe on their religious freedom. They stood up to defend their rights, and AU—backed by our faithful network of members and supporters— stood up with them.
Here are just a few of the people we’ve been able to help this year, thanks to our supporters:
LGBTQ Discrimination In West Virginia
When Amanda Abramovich and Samantha Brookover went to a West Virginia county clerk’s office in 2016, they expected a quick, routine trip to get their marriage license. They didn’t anticipate they’d be called an “abomination” and harassed by a county clerk who said her religious beliefs gave her the right to mistreat same-sex couples who wanted to get married. Despite the devastating experience, Amanda and Samantha were willing to speak out about the injustice and agreed to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit AU and Fairness West Virginia filed this year on their behalf.
In August, the county agreed to settle the case by issuing a public apology, awarding the couple damages and planning to train county employees to prevent future discrimination. “Consenting adults should never be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed when marrying the person they love,” Amanda and Samantha said. “It will be a comfort to know that this behavior will no longer be allowed in the Gilmer County Courthouse.”
Divisive Legislative Prayers In Florida
Residents in Brevard County, Florida., repeatedly asked their county commission for the opportunity to offer non-theistic invocations to add diversity to the almost exclusively Christian invocations delivered at the commission’s public meetings. When the residents repeatedly were denied, they looked to AU for help. With our allies at the American Civil Liberties Union and Freedom From Religion Foundation, we filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Brevard County Commission’s divisive prayer practice in 2015, and on Sept. 30 of this year, a federal judge ruled that the commission was violating both the U.S. and Florida constitutions.
David Williamson, one of the plaintiffs in the case, celebrated the victory when he spoke to the newspaper Florida Today: “I’m very pleased with what I read in the decision. This was straight-up discrimination, in relegating us to second-class citizenship in denying us our participating in the invocations. We weren’t going to stand for it, and the judge agreed.”
Trump Birth Control Rules And Women’s Healthcare
In the last month, Americans United was joined by the National Women’s Law Center in filing a lawsuit to challenge the Trump administration’s new rules that allow employers and universities to cite religious beliefs as justification for refusing to cover birth control in their health insurance plans. Birth control is a vital component of women’s health and equality; limiting women’s access to contraceptives is discrimination, plain and simple.
Among the plaintiffs in our lawsuit are Mary Shiraef, a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame, and Alicia Baker, an employee of an Indiana church whose insurance provider objects to providing birth control. “Access to contraception is crucial to me on many levels—intimately, for my career and for my personal health,” said Shiraef. “It means I can decide if and when I have children. It also means I can entirely focus on the quality of my relationship, without fear of an unplanned pregnancy. It means I get to focus on my task at hand—working toward a Ph.D.—in equitable measure to my male colleagues. It has also improved my overall health.” Baker said, “Putting barriers in the way of accessing birth control puts ordinary women’s lives on the line, like mine, and I am challenging these rules on behalf of us all.”
Muslim Ban 3.0
When President Donald Trump issued his Muslim Ban 3.0 in late September, Americans United continued fighting to block the ban, just as we’ve done since Trump issued the first Muslim ban days after his inauguration. We joined Muslim Advocates in filing a lawsuit whose plaintiffs include six people who face separation from their family members or the painful decision to leave their homes in America in order to remain with their loved ones as a result of Trump’s ban.
Our plaintiffs include a 79-year-old Maryland resident who relies on a wheelchair and is awaiting the arrival of her son in Iran to help take care of her and her elderly husband. Although the son’s visa was approved, Trump’s ban would block him from coming to the US. “I am afraid that I will never be able to see my son,” said the woman, who is referred to as Jane Doe No. 5 in the lawsuit. “I am afraid that he will not be able to come and be with his elderly parents.” Another plaintiff, known as Jane Doe No. 2, is a native Marylander who met her fiancé in Iran seven years ago. His visa application was pending when Trump issued the ban, and she fears he will be blocked from coming here. “This will mean that I have to choose between my home and my country here in Maryland and the love of my life, the man I want to marry. … If my fiancé’s visa is not granted, we will be completely devastated. It will be very difficult for me to leave my job and the only home I have known.”
These are just a few of the ways Americans United has been helping people defend the wall of separation between church and state this year. If you’re able to help us, we’d be most thankful for your support. Today, on #GivingTuesday, any donations made through Facebook can be doubled thanks to matching gifts from several generous AU donors. You can learn more about how you can help here.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us this year. Just as we’ve done for the past 70 years, Americans United will continue to advocate for religious freedom.