Americans United Has a New Executive Director

Americans United Has a New Executive Director February 22, 2018

When Barry Lynn retired as the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State late last year, I was very curious to see who might take his place. I was hoping they would promote from within, perhaps with my friend Rob Boston, but they’ve now hired a new ED and she seems to be an excellent choice. Meet Rachel Laser.

Her resume is stellar. Most recently, she was the Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a strong pro-separation organization. Before that, she was the Executive Director of the Culture Program at Third Way and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. She’s also on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She did her undergrad years at Harvard and has a law degree from the University of Chicago. A resume doesn’t get much better than that.

The fact that she is Jewish is notable. Most don’t know that AU was originally formed as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State and later dropped the first part. She is the first non-Christian to lead the organization, and the first woman as well. And I think having a religious director for the organization is a good thing because it helps us reframe the issue in a more accurate and useful way than the way our enemies like to frame it, which is atheists vs Christians.

That framing has always been wrong, but it’s the one that dominates media discussions of virtually every church/state issue. That works to the benefit of the enemies of separation because it helps isolate atheists against everyone else, at least in the perceptions of far too many. But the reality has always been that a great many people of all religions have been on our side, going back to the time of the framing of the Constitution, when Baptist ministers like John Leland and Isaac Backus were among the strongest voices for strict separation.

The current and next big fights over separation are more subtle than some of the battles of the past and they will involve the privileging of religious belief as a justification for not having to follow the laws that everyone else does. We see this with RFRA laws, the Hobby Lobby case, the various cases involving providing services to same-sex weddings, pharmacists refusing to provide morning-after pills, and more. Laser’s background in fighting for women’s rights and LGBT rights will be helpful in this regard.

I very much look forward to working with Rachel and the rest of the already amazing staff at AU in any situation that may arise in the future, as I have in the past. They are one of the most important organizations in the country and it sounds to me like they made a terrific choice to lead them. I think Barry can go into retirement safe in the knowledge that the organization he devoted half of his adult life to is in good hands.

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