Tomorrow at 1 p.m., Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn will participate in an “Ask Me Anything” session on the social news site Reddit. This is your chance to pick Barry’s brain about the state of religious freedom and church-state separation in America. Barry will be retiring at the end of the year after 25 years with Americans United – so this is a great opportunity to ask him about the battles he’s fought and those he sees on AU’s horizon.
Before several of the debates during last year’s presidential campaign, and before some of the confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees earlier this year, we compiled some questions we hoped the candidates would be asked. Along those lines, here are some topics I hope come up during Barry’s AMA tomorrow:
President Trump’s “Religious Freedom” Executive Order
During the National Day of Prayer service on the White House lawn last Thursday, Trump announced an executive order that continued his assault on religious freedom. The order lays the groundwork for attacks on women’s access to birth control by encouraging review of the Affordable Care Act protections that ensure most employer insurance plans cover contraception with no co-pay; the president believes bosses should be allowed to use religion as an excuse to deny employees this coverage. The order also sets the stage for sweeping rule changes across the government that could allow discrimination against LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, non-theists and almost anyone else – all in the name of religion. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was directed to “issue guidance” for all federal agencies on the scope of religious freedom protections in federal law.
The Johnson Amendment
Trump’s executive order also was aimed at limiting enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a federal law that protects the integrity and independence of houses of worship and our elections by ensuring tax-exempt organizations don’t endorse or oppose political candidates. Not only has the Johnson Amendment been on Trump’s hit list, but a few members of Congress also would like to weaken this vital protection despite broad public support for it. As Trump was denouncing the law last week, a House subcommittee was hosting a hearing designed to drum up support for repealing or weakening the law. AU has been working for decades to educate the public and houses of worship about this important law through our Project Fair Play.
Join AU Executive Director Barry Lynn for an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit.
Muslim Ban 2.0
We’re in the midst of participating in a week of action to show support for the Muslim community and to highlight two important court hearings involving challenges of Trump’s Muslim ban. On May 8, a federal appeals court heard arguments on whether the Muslim ban should continue to be blocked; another federal appeals court will hear similar arguments on May 15. Americans United filed friend-of-the-court briefs in both of these cases and others, as well as filing our own lawsuit, UMAA v. Trump, that challenges the ban. We argue the travel ban executive order is the un-American Muslim ban Trump promised during his presidential campaign. The ban is unconstitutional because it discriminates against Muslims based solely on their religion.
The Real Meaning Of Religious Freedom
Americans United continues to fight efforts to redefine religious freedom in ways that would allow religion to be used as an excuse to harm others. Through our Protect Thy Neighbor project, we recently filed a lawsuit in West Virginia on behalf of a same-sex couple harassed by a county clerk when the women applied for a marriage license. We filed friend-of-the-court briefs in two other lawsuits in support of transgender individuals battling discrimination. And we’ve been fighting harmful legislation in the states and at the federal level.
Those are just a few of the major issues AU has been working on recently that would make for a great discussion with Barry tomorrow. There are so many more – the push for private school voucher schemes, unnecessary anti-Sharia laws that stoke Islamophobia, discriminatory legislative prayer practices, creationism in public schools. All are welcome topics. I’m also hoping folks inquire about some of Barry’s memories working for church-state separation over the years, and what’s up with this fondness I hear he has for Godzilla?!
Please join us at 1 p.m. tomorrow on Reddit’s “politics” page to participate in the “Ask Me Anything” with Barry.