On Religious Freedom Day, Let’s Recommit To Defend That Vital Principle

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From AU's Wall of Separation blog:

Today we celebrate Religious Freedom Day. After nearly a year of the Trump-Pence administration’s unwavering attacks on the freedom of religion and belief, some might wonder what there is to celebrate. But today, we can be thankful for the fact that Americans United has been successful in fighting many of the administration’s reckless assaults on this core freedom.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It’s about fairness and equality, not discrimination and coercion as the Trump-Pence administration believes. So today, let’s celebrate religious freedom really means.

Religious freedom means you get to decide for yourself how – and if – you support religious education. The government can’t force you to fund someone else’s religious schooling. Yet, Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have pushed private school voucher schemes that would divert scarce resources away from public schools to private, religious schools. Not only is religion woven into their curriculum, but reports show many teach creationism as science and enforce anti-LGBTQ admission policies. Public funds should pay for public schools. They are a unifying factor among the diverse range of ethnic and religious communities in our country—they are open to all. Vouchers undermine this vital function and violate religious freedom.

For decades, AU has opposed misguided voucher plans in court, Congress, and statehouses. And over the past year, we’ve been even busier. We’re not going to stand by idly while Trump and DeVos scheme to undermine it.

Religious freedom means you have the right to be free from discrimination based on someone else’s religious beliefs. Religious freedom gives all Americans the right to believe (or not) as they see fit—but it’s not a license to discriminate. This issue has hit home for the LGBTQ community. Someone else’s religious beliefs shouldn’t determine whether you can marry who you love, adopt a child in need of a loving home, access essential health care, receive government services, or be treated as a second-class citizen at a bakery. Yet guidance put out by Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions would sanction this kind of discrimination. In fact, the Justice Department argued that a bakery has a constitutional right to discriminate. We’re fighting back against these harmful and disgraceful policies in court and beyond.

Religious freedom means you have the right to make decisions about your healthcare, and your employers and universities can’t use religion as a reason to interfere. For example, access to birth control is key to women’s health and equality and it should never be subject to a boss’s religious veto. Yet new Trump administration regulations let employers and universities use religion to justify refusing to cover birth control on their employees’ and students’ health insurance plans. Taking away access to contraception is discrimination, plain and simple. On behalf of women whose coverage is at risk, Americans United took the Trump administration to court to fight this harmful policy.

Religious freedom means that houses of worship don’t use tax-exempt dollars to endorse or oppose political candidates: The American tax code grants houses of worship and other nonprofits special tax-free status specifically because they work for the common good, not so that they can endorse political candidates. The Johnson Amendment, which ensures that tax-exempt organizations don’t endorse candidates, protects the taxpayer, as well as the integrity of our elections and our houses of worship. Egged on by his Religious Right allies, Trump has vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, but AU has stymied him at every turn. We rallied thousands of clergy, lay leaders and others to defend the amendment. Republicans in the House of Representatives tried to severely weaken the amendment in the tax bill, but AU kept up the pressure, and the final version of the bill did not include any language undercutting the amendment.

Religious freedom means that you can’t be singled out discrimination because of the faith you follow. We don’t discriminate against other people because their beliefs are different from ours. That’s unfair, and un-American. The Trump administration’s Muslim ban, is offensive and defies our nation’s tradition: People of all faiths and backgrounds have long sought a new start in our country because of the promise of religious freedom. Religious freedom protects the right of Muslims to exercise their beliefs, just like people who follow any other religion or no religion.

That’s why Americans United represents families who are harmed by this ban and has sued Trump to end it

Today let’s remember why religious freedom is fundamental. And let’s recommit to fight for it. Americans United is there every day to stand up to Trump, Pence and their Religious Right allies. We want you to join us. Sign up for our emails to learn how you can help, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. And sign our pledge to defend religious freedom.