Separation of Religion and State
“For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
President George Washington, letter to the Hebrew Hebrew congregation of Newport Rhode Island, 1790
When JEF was formed, one of our founding principles was “Church and State”—meaning the separation of religion and state to protect the rights of minorities. We were alarmed by the emergence of a powerful religious right onto the political scene, and their attempts to impose their own brand of religious principles, e.g. imposing sectarian prayer in public schools. While the issues had faded from headlines in recent years, it continues to be one of our priorities and now it's back in the headlines with a vengeance.
In 1981, we were concerned with prayer in public schools; In 2017, a newly appointed Secretary of Education came to office with a record of using public funds to support sectarian schools, further undermining the public educational system which has been so important to generations of American children. Meanwhile, the last President has vowed to repeal the Johnson Amendment which precludes tax deductible organizations from endorsing candidates.
A new challenge to the separation of religion and state has emerged in the last the years: the attempt to use the words “religious liberty" to mask discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and other minority groups. A version of an Executive Order during the Trump Administration would legalize denial of services to gay and transgender people on the basis of religious objection. This would turn George Washington’s promise upside down — using the power of the state not to protect minorities, but protecting the right to discriminate against minorities! These attacks on Americans have been rolled back by the Biden Administration, but continue to see challenges in court cases and state legislation around the country.