Editor’s note: This blog post by AU President and CEO Rachel Laser originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of AU's Church & State magazine.
Brett Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh.
Is this kind of what it has felt like to receive our emails and correspondences lately? I hope so—and, at the same time, I want to answer a legitimate question: Does it make sense for Americans United to invest, as we have, in trying to defeat the nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court when the chances of victory have seemed remote? The answer to this question is an emphatic yes, but I realize this is not self-evident, so please allow me to explain.
First, too much is at stake to sit on the sidelines. The Trump-Pence administration is doing everything it can to tear down the wall between religion and government in an effort to give special status in our country to their base—far-right evangelical Christians—and the nomination of Kavanaugh is a part of this plan. As a report AU issued details, Kavanaugh’s proven track record of hostility to church-state separation indicates he could endanger religious freedom for generations to come.
With our core principle on the line, AU is obligated not only to fight until the end but to do everything in our power to stop Kavanaugh. And we must believe in our power.
A recent New York Times op-ed titled “Go Ahead, Millennials, Destroy Us,” contained an interesting passage: “Power is like money: imaginary, entirely dependent upon belief.” Our success depends in large part upon our—and your—belief in the power of our collective voice. Would the Voting Rights Act have passed if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had said to himself, “The odds aren’t great, so we should sit this one out”? Trying hard doesn’t promise victory, but it sure increases the chances of success.
Second, we must make clear that this isn’t a game of Monopoly. There will be no “Get Out of Jail Free” cards when this administration nominates people now or in the future to the federal bench who endanger religious freedom in America. Instead, we will not only raise our own voices, we’ll also educate senators and mobilize allied organizations, AU members and faith leaders to speak out about the nominee’s problematic record on church-state separation.
Third, our Kavanaugh campaign establishes us as a contributing and respected coalition partner among other national leading groups in Washington. The Rev. William Barber, an inspiring religious leader who some refer to as a modern-day Dr. King, talks about the need for a “moral fusion movement.” His point is that we must all band together in key moments, as we did with the civil rights movement, in order to get the job done. Kavanaugh’s nomination is hard to defeat, but the odds are best when environmental, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, and civil liberties groups come together to oppose him. A strong, effective coalition effort also empowers people to speak out in meaningful ways. I doubt that Christine Blasey Ford would have felt comfortable going public with her story if there hadn’t been a powerful anti-Kavanaugh effort already in place.
Fourth, the fight against Kavanaugh gives us an opportunity to educate the public, faith leaders, our coalition partners and even senators about why church-state separation is so important. Separation of religion and government is not always front and center in people’s minds, and there isn’t always a reliable “hook”—like this one—for elevating it.
In addition, it’s not obvious to everyone what’s at stake for real people when it comes to this constitutional principle. Last month I wrote about the inspiring and personal videos of our interns explaining that birth control and LGBTQ equality would be threatened if Kavanaugh joined our country’s highest court. Through sharing videos like these on social media, we’ve conveyed in human terms what’s at stake if Kavanaugh gets the seat while also reaching younger audiences. Indeed, we have capitalized on the opportunity to call attention to our issue—what some might call making lemonade from lemons!
Finally, we are using this moment to hone campaign tools for the future. We are trying new things, such as the videos, paid promotion of our content on social media, and a new system for facilitating your phone calls to target senators. We’ll be able to put our learnings to good use going forward.
Americans United is made for critical moments like this one. I hope you are as proud as I am of the blood, sweat, and tears that our talented staff have poured into this fight, for the many reasons I just laid out.