On Election Eve, Where We Stand

Americans will go to the polls tomorrow and elect a new president. It’s an awesome responsibility, one of the defining characteristics of a free people.

Americans United is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Under federal law, we can’t endorse or oppose candidates (although we can take sides on ballot referenda). Unlike some Religious Right groups, we respect this law and follow it.

It’s not our job to tell you how to vote. It is our job to remind you why civic participation is important. And it’s our job to tell you – and all Americans – what we stand for.

This is a good time to be reminded of that. So let’s get to it.

We stand for freedom of conscience. This fundamental human right means you have the ability to decide what religion, if any, you will join and support. You have the right to change your mind about religion. You have the right to be a seeker, to blend different traditions into your own theological brew. If you have children, you have the right to raise them in the faith or non-faith of your choice. You have the right to share your faith with others using your own money and private channels. Your relationship with a deity, if indeed you have one, is your business. As long as you abide by the laws of the land, government has no right to interfere in that relationship.

We stand for secular public education that respects everyone’s rights and welcomes all. Public schools serve 90 percent of America’s children. Those children represent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of faiths and philosophies. All must be welcome in our public schools. These schools exist to impart secular education. It’s not the job of teachers or school officials to compel children to take part in prayer, Bible reading or other worship activities. In fact, it’s a serious violation of parental rights.

We stand for a government where no person is a second-class citizen because of what he or she believes (or does not believe) about religion. At Americans United, we believe you should be able to attend meetings of government bodies and interact with elected officials without being pressured, directly or indirectly, to take part in a religious exercise. Where you worship, how you worship and if you worship should be irrelevant to your standing as a citizen.

Religious freedom means the right to pray, or not, as you see fit.

We stand for voluntary support of all religious enterprises. No American should be forced to pay taxes to support the religion of someone else. All sectarian projects, including schools that serve primarily a religious purpose, should be funded with contributions collected from people who gave them voluntarily. We believe the principle of voluntary support for religion has served the U.S. faith community very well. It has created an array of robust and active houses of worship that span the theological spectrum. It must be maintained.

We stand for a government that is neutral on matters of theology. Government should not presume to make theological decisions for its people. Questions such as the existence of god, the nature of a deity and the validity of various religious texts should be hashed out in private arenas. Government should not be involved in these discussions. Furthermore, it’s never the job of government to display sectarian symbols or endorse codes of behavior drawn from religious texts.

We stand for religious freedom – real religious freedom – not mutant versions that encompass taking away the rights of others or exposing people to harm. Religious freedom is a vital principle that must be protected, but it should never become an excuse for one person to deny other Americans’ access to services to which they have a legal right, interfere with their health care or expose them to harm or injury.

These are some of the things Americans United stands for. We’ve stood for them for a long time, and you can be assured of this: We’ll continue to stand for them no matter who wins tomorrow.

We hope you’ll be standing with us.