Of Gossip Girl, The Supreme Court And Tajikistan: My Favorite Memories Of AU

As they say, all good things must come to end.

I’m sad to report that today is my last day at Americans United. I’m heading on to a new communications position at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, where I promise to keep up the good fight.

But before I go, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on my past three-plus years here at AU. It has been a lot of fun. I’ve met great people who I am going to miss, and I have had some very interesting experiences that I’ll always remember.

Here are the top five:

#5: The “Values Voter” Summits, though they completely ruined one of my weekends every September, have always been quite entertaining and are invaluable for understanding the Religious Right. I’ll never forget my first conference in September 2008. Everything that I stood for these folks were against – down to the TV shows I watched. (That year, actor Stephen Baldwin did a presentation on how “Gossip Girl” was out to destroy today’s youth. Who knew?) It definitely was an eye-opening experience.

#4:  My first trip to the U.S. Supreme Court was a dream come true. I attended the Pleasant Grove City v. Summum oral argument, which I wrote about here and here and here (I wrote about Summum A LOT). That was just the first of many trips I made to the high court, and I have to say, it never got old.

#3: This spring, I headed to Minnesota to speak on the National Day of Prayer. The Minnesota Atheists invited me to deliver a speech in the atrium of the Minnesota State Capitol. The plan was for students on field trips and legislators to listen in as I talked about why we didn’t need a congressionally mandated day of prayer. When the speech was over, I looked up and saw everyone out of their chairs, applauding. Receiving a standing ovation will forever be a career highlight.

#2: In early August, I traveled down to Houston with my boss and Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. We were there to oppose Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s fundamentalist Christians-only prayer-and-fasting event and participate in an alternative rally AU sponsored with the ACLU. I spent two full days with Barry, helping him get his speech ready and putting him in touch with reporters. I have always admired Barry Lynn, but in spending all this time with him, I learned more about his experiences over the years – including the years he spent at the ACLU, my soon-to-be place of work.

#1: My top moment at Americans United was meeting with a group of imams from Tajikistan last year. The U.S. State Department sponsors an exchange program in which religious and government leaders come to the United States to learn about our system of government and our Constitution. Americans United’s office is often a stop. I really didn’t know what to expect from a group of Muslim religious leaders who live in a country that has very little religious tolerance, but they were all in good spirits and very eager to hear what I had to say. After I was done speaking, one imam commented, “From what I have seen, America is the land of the free! I can see why America has had such success and fortune. It’s because everyone here is free to pray to the God that they choose.”

His words reflected why I came to Americans United. I truly believe in AU’s mission and in protecting the right of all Americans to be free to practice whatever faith (or no faith) they choose, without governmental intrusion.

Growing up Hindu, attending Catholic school, and spending summers at the Jewish Center’s day camp – I definitely have an appreciation for our country’s religious diversity. And I’m proud that for the past few years, I’ve been part of maintaining the wall of separation between church and state. I plan to keep it up wherever I go.

[caption id="attachment_3807" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Hanging out at the U.S. Supreme Court: Rob Boston, Sandhya Bathija, Joe Conn"][/caption]