The separation of state and church is a founding American principle that prevents governments from imposing religion on citizens, prohibits elected officials from abusing their power to promote their personal religion, and guarantees freedom of conscience without government intervention or support.
Religious freedom, while expansive, is not unlimited. It can never justify eroding civil and human rights. Religious freedom does not include a license to discriminate or a right to harm others.
Both state/church separation and religious freedom are enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The separation of religion and government created by this provision is both uniquely American and essential to the religious pluralism we value. True religious freedom is only possible with a secular government.
In recent decades, Americans have seen their hard won civil and human rights eroded under the guise of “religious liberty.” Numerous Trump executive orders, agency actions, and recent Supreme Court decisions have undermined long-standing legal principles and religious freedom protections. The courts and the Trump Administration built upon each other’s efforts to bolster religious exemptions to civil rights laws, to the detriment of access to reproductive and other healthcare services, collective bargaining rights, environmental justice, LGBTQ equality, and equal treatment for religious minorities and nonreligious people.
Congress must push back against using religion as a justification to erode civil and human rights and reestablish our historical commitment to true religious freedom. Our country must confront Christian Nationalism and uphold the separation of state and church, which is a goal of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, and which bills like the Do No Harm Act and the Equality Act accomplish.
Director of Governmental Affairs
Freedom From Religion Foundation