Americans United staff members and activists remain busy promoting separation of church and state in several venues. During an Americans United Board of Trustees meeting in Washington, D.C., Nov. 9, Bishop John Shelby Spong, a prominent American theologian and retired Episcopal bishop, received Americans United’s Person of the Year Award.
During the same meeting, Douglas J. Ciampi Jr. received the David Norr Youth Activist Award for his efforts to ensure religious neutrality at his Massachusetts public high school.
Spong urged the crowd to remain active in defense of the church-state wall, pointing out that separation of church and state is a product of the Enlightenment and that without it, religious prejudice assumes the status of law.
“Separation of church and state is always under attack,” Spong said. “It’s always fragile. And this organization has to do the work it is committed to do. I urge you to keep at it for the sake of us all.”
Ciampi, now a student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., also spoke. He told the crowd how, with the help of Americans United, he persuaded officials at his high school to replace the baccalaureate with an “evening of reflection.” The new event turned out to be less expensive and more popular than the religious service.
Also during the meeting, Americans United welcomed two new members to its board: Ronald B. Flowers, professor emeritus of religion at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and Genie Scott, former executive director of the National Center for Science Education. Members of Americans United’s National Leadership Council and Youth Advisory Council also met during the event.
Rabbi Merrill Shapiro completed his term as board president. The Rev. Dr. Neal R. Jones, senior minister of Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, Pa., will serve as AU’s new president. Stephanie Campbell, chapter activist from Orange County, Calif., is vice president. Nancy Friedman and Karen Ringen continue to serve as secretary and treasurer respectively.
In other news:
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn spoke at the Feminist Majority’s “Women, Money, Power Summit” Nov. 5 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Lynn spoke about efforts by Religious Right groups to use false definitions of “religious freedom” to reduce reproductive options for women.
Elise Helgesen Aguilar, AU’s federal legislative counsel, took part in a conference sponsored by Medical Students for Choice in Philadelphia Oct. 18. She addressed the topic, “Refusal Clauses: Bogus Arguments and Their Impact on Reproductive Healthcare.”
AU Senior Litigation Counsel Greg Lipper spoke during a day-long conference titled “Locked Out and Silenced: Reclaiming Women’s Reproductive and Healthcare Rights” Nov. 6 sponsored by the Reproductive Justice Initiative. The Washington, D.C., event took the form of a hearing that featured speakers on a variety of women’s healthcare issues. Lipper discussed efforts to block access to birth control using “religious freedom” arguments.
Richard B. Katskee, AU’s legal director, traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., Nov. 7 to take part in an event sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania marking the 10-year anniversary of Kitzmiller v. Dover, a legal case that struck down the teaching of “intelligent design” in a Pennsylvania school district. Katskee led AU’s legal team in litigating that case alongside the ACLU affiliate, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton.