It’s Hard to Find a Better Leader for an Important Church/State Separation Group

When Rev. Barry Lynn, the longtime Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, announced his retirement, I wondered what the organization would do. It’s hard to replace a lion of First Amendment advocacy, but Lynn was also an ordained minister. All those stereotypes about how it’s only atheists who ever care about these issues bounced right off of him. He was unique, in that sense, and while an atheist could capably do his job, I was hoping they’d find someone who didn’t fit that mold.

Looks like they found the right person.

Rachel Laser is a lawyer, advocate and strategist who has dedicated the last two decades of her life to fighting to make the country inclusive for all Americans. She has a proven track record of uniting both faith and secular leaders and advocacy organizations to make tangible progress on some of the most important issues of our time.

And as a religious minority — she was raised as a Reform Jew — she understands personally how much it matters that our laws treat everyone fairly and equally. She is an advocate for racial justice and has led workshops, given speeches and worked with schools and universities to challenge racism and expose privilege.

Laser (the first syllable rhymes with “jazz”) is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School. She previously worked with the National Women’s Law Center, Third Way (a progressive group reaching out to political moderates), and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. She’s currently a national board member of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Qualifications? Check check check check check.

She told the Washington Post that we’re living in a time when church/state separation ought to be energizing everybody, especially since the one wall Donald Trump has no problem tearing down has a harmful effect on so many people:

Laser says a key challenge of this moment is to capture the energy and anger many Americans have felt since Trump’s election while reintroducing church-state separation as a nonpartisan one.

“We need to awaken that awareness, we need to awaken the notion that religious liberty undergirds the separation of church and state. The two can not only coexist but are tied at the waist,” she said in an interview at her new L Street office in downtown Washington, which was occupied for 25 years until late last year by the Rev. Barry Lynn, a longtime fixture on cable news on the topic of religion in public life.

I also appreciate this response she gave to the organization’s magazine about who she admires:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is so many things I aspire to be. She is a Jewish woman who challenged and overcame the sexist expectations of her times and has spent her life powerfully and effectively advocating for America to make good on its promise of equality and opportunity for all. She is a mother and also enjoyed a loving and supportive relationship with her husband. She is also the type of person who is capable of forming close human relationships even with those with whom she often disagrees, as was evidenced by her friendship with her adversary on the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia.

Laser appears to be a solid choice to lead a legacy organization into a future where religion and politics are more intertwined than ever before. It’ll be her job to help untie that knot. That’s a challenge, to say the least, but it’d be hard to find someone more capable of doing it.

Given the important lawsuits AU has filed over the years (including Supreme Court challenges) and the educational outreach it does, I’m glad to see it’ll be in good hands moving forward.

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