The Long Goodbye: After 25 Years, I’m Moving On

I wrote this column on the Ides of March. If you remember your ancient history, you know that March 15 was the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome by conspirators wielding daggers.

I had an easier day than that, but it was still a bittersweet one for me: It’s the day I publicly announced that I will be retiring at the end of this year.

Many of you have sent me messages about this, for which I am deeply appreciative. Curiously, although I have a whole “wall of shame” (hate mail) here at Americans United, no trolls (and I don’t mean the kind you may have collected as a child with the flowing white hair, nor the forest or mountain trolls in the classic Norwegian horror film “Trollhunter”) have infested the AU site or my personal email. 

So as of this writing, I’ve had no nasty comments from people who despise everything we stand for. Well, there is a Religion News Service story about my retirement mentioning that the Catholic League’s William Donohue has called Americans United “virulently anti-Catholic” because we oppose school vouchers. Bill and I have been around the block many, many times on radio and television. He’s not a bad person; he just needs to enter the 20th century. (I have given up on getting him into the 21st.)

Why leave now? Well, I will turn 70 next year, and I’m confident it’s time for a younger person to battle the next three – or, heaven forbid, seven – years of outrages from the current president. 

I have loved this job for the past quarter century. It has enabled me to work against a frightening concept that I first began to contemplate while in college: the notion that the rules of a democratic society would be twisted to conform to a “literal” reading of someone’s holy text. (I put literal in quotes because lots of people believe they are interpreting a book literally – even when they all strongly disagree on what it says.)

Working here at AU has enabled me to partner with great organizations. Whether large or small, they are fighting alongside us. I can’t list them all, but they include the American Civil Liberties Union, national teachers’ unions, Texas Freedom Network, the Interfaith Alliance, People For the American Way, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, humanist and atheist groups and so many others, including numerous faith communities.

I’ve met so many people along the way at AU chapter programs, conferences sponsored by allied groups, debates at colleges and many other events. (If you live in Alaska, please forgive me because I’ve never made it to that state.) To them, I want to say a big “thank you.” You honored me by attending.

I want to recognize the organizational leaders of the feminist movement, the wonderful writers who joined me during the time of my “Culture Shocks” radio show and all the singer-songwriters and comedians who worked on our Voices United concerts.

The very best people in this country are those who support keeping what I have often called “a decent distance between the institutions of religion and government.”

I also want to acknowledge the worthy opponents in debates and media appearances, people I might not agree with but whom I respect: Jay Sekulow (who once bought me breakfast at the Supreme Court cafeteria), Janet Parshall (I’m still on her radio show every month in debate with her husband) and Greg Baylor of the Christian Legal Society (a man who actually sought the rare “creative compromise” instead of Washington’s better-known “idiot’s compromise”).

I leave with fond memories of my cable and network TV encounters with Bill O’Reilly, William F. Buckley Jr., Pat Buchanan (and OK, even Jerry Falwell) – events that were actually fun most of the time. I enjoyed provoking Pat Robertson – it was easy to do – and won’t soon forget spending a day in New York City taping a segment with Stephen Colbert, then of “The Daily Show.”

But the person I want to thank the most is you, the Americans United member who has steadfastly supported this organization. You made all of our work possible. You donated money and time. You wrote to legislators. You penned letters to the editor. You even read these columns. (And, since I’m not leaving until the end the year, you still have to get through a few more.)

I won’t say it’s been a long, strange trip, although it has been at times. It’s just been an awesome one.

Thanks for making it possible.