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Should There Be Religious Exemptions from Public Health Requirements?

THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2022 at 6:00 PM CST via Zoom

The Texas constitution was recently amended, when voters approved Proposition 3, to exempt religious services from public health restrictions, under any circumstances. Some Texas officials, including Attorney General Paxton, have maintained that religious schools and other religious institutions are exempt on First Amendment grounds from public health orders.

Other state and local governments have taken similar positions, while lawsuits challenging restrictions on gatherings or masking or vaccination requirements have been filed across the country. The limitations imposed by the COVID pandemic are the most current example, but this this could apply to such events as hazardous materials leaks, fires, floods and other natural or man-made disasters.

Our panel of experts will discuss public health requirements that have been mandated during the COVID-19 pandemic & whether religious exemptions are warranted.

Jose A. Vazquez MD, Division Chief and Professor of Medicine Infectious Diseases at Augusta University

Andy Reese PhD, Emeritus professor of immunology at Medical College of Georgia, co-author of The Doctor’s Dilemma–Essentials of Medical Ethics

Rev. Andy Cooke, co-pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA

Alex Luchenitser, Assoc. VP and Assoc. Legal Director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Register here for instructions to watch live and to get link to recording later

More information about this program here


Past Events

Non-Christian Americans in Elected Office:

A Balancing Act?

June 14, 2021

As our nation becomes more diverse, more people of minority religions—or no religion—are being elected to public office. Yet the fact remains that this is an overwhelmingly majority Christian country. How do these public officials balance their ability to perform their public duties and practice their faith?
Three public officials discussed their experiences as non-Christians elected in Houston. Former U.S. Congressman and Houston City Council member Chris Bell led the discussion and brought his perspective as a Christian officeholder. A brief annual meeting preceded the discussion.
Ellen Cohen

Ellen Cohen
Former Texas Representative, Houston City Council Member & Mayor Pro Tem

Rabeea Collier

 Rabeea Collier
Harris Co.          District Judge
113th Civil Court

Jon Rosenthal

 Jon Rosenthal
Texas Representative
135th House District

Chris Bell

Chris Bell, Moderator
Former U.S. Representative and Houston City Council Member



You can watch this program on our YouTube page at  https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericansUnitedHous



Real People, Real Stories, Real Harm: Religious Bigotry is Alive and Well

May 17, 2021

Recent events have poignantly reminded us that some members of our community have long been subjected to insults, rejection and threats because of their religious or non-religious beliefs. Our guest speakers shared their disturbing experiences with religious bigotry in contemporary America to open a dialogue about what more we must do to stem the spread of this insidious cancer that’s infecting our country.
  • Ashton Adair–attorney born Ashraf Abadir in Cairo, Egypt
  • Kafah Bachari–attorney and writer, born in Iran, raised in Texas
  • Eric Grimm–atheist, attorney, former city council member in Michigan
  • Mustafaa Carroll--American-born Muslim and former Executive Director, Houston Chapter, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
  • Moderator, Jim Bankston–retired Sr. Pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Member of AU Houston’s Religious Advisory Council

You can watch this program on our YouTube page at  https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericansUnitedHous




Religious Liberty:  A Sword or a Shield?  March 15, 2021, featuring Dr. Neal Jones, Chair, Board of Trustees of Americans United

In recent years, the Religious Right has resumed an old tactic–distorting the meaning of “religious freedom” in order to justify discrimination against groups they frown upon, including LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, nonbelievers and others. Dr. Jones discussed how religious extremists are asking state legislatures, Congress and the courts to legalize their bigotry. He suggested how we can stand up to those who would harm others in the name of religion.
A longtime member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Dr. Jones is the chair of AU’s National Board of Trustees. He’s been a plaintiff in two AU lawsuits: to prevent South Carolina from issuing state-sponsored Christian license plates and to end the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy barring nontheists from offering invocations to open House sessions. Dr. Jones is a practicing psychologist in Asheville, NC and a Unitarian Universalist minister who has worked in clinical settings and served congregations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.

You can watch this program on our YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericansUnitedHous


A Two-Thirds Religious Right Majority of the Supreme Court:  Can We Salvage Church-State Separation at All?   February 1, 2021, featuring Eddie Tabash

The widely unbalanced U.S. Supreme Court will have a profound impact on many issues affecting American life, including church-state separation, for decades to come. Constitutional lawyer Eddie Tabash has been studying and warning about a religious right takeover of the Supreme Court for many years.
Based in Los Angeles, Tabash is a member of the Board of Trustees of Americans United and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for Inquiry. He has filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court, most recently in last year’s Our Lady of Guadalupe School case.In 2000, he was the only known atheist to be a major contender for a U.S. state legislative seat. His main purpose in church/state separation activism is to help make sure that believers and nonbelievers are equal before the law. Learn more about Tabash.

Tabash was hoping to never have to give this talk.  You can watch it on our YouTube page at  https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericansUnitedHous


Election 2020: What’s Next for Church-State Separation?  December 17, 2020

with Maggie Garrett, Americans United Vice President for Public Policy, Richard Katskee, Americans United Legal Director, and Sarah Gillooly, Americans United Vice President for State Outreach & Engagement

“This is a nation founded on the idea of the separation of church and state. After 200 years, why the hell would you want to go messing with that?” Joe Biden, 2005

The Trump years have taken a serious toll on the separation of religion and government. His administration’s misuse of religious freedom to harm others was unprecedented, and he packed the federal judiciary with judges who are willing to deny many Americans their constitutional rights in the name of “religious freedom.”
AU is calling on President-Elect Biden to reverse Trump’s harmful policies and to adopt policies that respect the separation of religion and government. AU ‘s agenda for the Biden administration to restore and protect religious freedom includes:
  • Repealing the Muslim ban
  • Funding public schools, not private, with taxpayer dollars
  • Protecting taxpayer-funded employees from religious discrimination
  • Prohibiting denial of health care based on providers’ religious beliefs
What will change as a result of the election? What can we realistically expect, with judges with lifetime appointments, a new administration and an uncertain Congress?
Garrett, Katskee and Gillooly discussed AU’s plans, expectations and strategies and then answered questions. 

You can watch this program on our YouTube page at  https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericansUnitedHous

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2020 Annual Meeting: Church, State and Coronavirus

Church, State and Coronavirus

Houston Chapter’s Annual Meeting

Monday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m.

Does “religious freedom” mean

  •  Churches can claim exemption from public safety orders?
  • Employers can deny workers access to birth control coverage?
  • Governments can substitute prayer for public policy?

 “Mixing church and state won’t save anyone from coronavirus.”

Rachel Laser, President/CEO, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

 For more than 70 years, Americans United has worked to safeguard against assaults on reproductive freedom, LGBTQ equality and public education in the name of “religious freedom.” Join our virtual gathering to learn what Americans United’s mission means to YOU.


Kenneth D. Upton, Jr., Senior Litigation Counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, updated us on the latest developments on these issues, including AU’s involvement in lawsuits challenging Harris County’s stay-at-home orders.

You can watch this program on our YouTube page at  https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericansUnitedHous

March for Religious Freedom

Marched for Religious Freedom


Our chapter was proud to march for religious freedom for all on January 25 in the Houston Women March On.

Religion is often used as an excuse to discriminate against women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities, non-believers and others and to undermine reproductive rights and access to health care. Americans United opposes this misuse of “religious freedom.” We are fighting for equality, fairness and religious freedom, and we are standing up to those who would harm others in the name of religion.


Annual Meeting 2019

Annual Meeting; Special Guest Rachel Laser, President & CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church & State

“Church-State Separation in Trump’s America: Where We are and Where We’re Going”


Please support the important work of Americans United.

To join, go to www.au.org/donate-chapter-houston.  You’ll become a member of both the Houston chapter and the national organization. 

To renew, go to https://www.au.org/renew-your-support


Special Members Event November 27, 2018




Members were invited to join us for an informational meeting on “What to Expect on Church-State Separation from the Upcoming Texas Legislature.” Americans United State Legislative Counsel Nik Nartowicz and Jay Aiyer, political science professor at TSU and cohost of a weekly podcast Party Politics, were featured speakers.

The program was Tuesday, November 27, 2018 at 7:00 P.M., with coffee and dessert served starting at 6:30 P.M. It was at a private home in West University.   

Stop Kavanaugh – A Call to Action





People in all 50 states are uniting as part of a national coalition to stop U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh’s nomination is a direct assault on the separation between church and state.  He has a demonstrated track record of hostility toward church-state separation that should make him ineligible for the position.


He MUST be stopped.


Join Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s Houston chapter and other community organizations, including

AFL-CIO, Equality Texas, Indivisible Houston, Mi Familia Vota, MoveOn, National Organization for Women, National Council of Jewish Women, Pantsuit Republic Texas, Pantsuit Republic Houston, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast

 Thursday, SEPTEMBER 6, at 7:00 PM   

The Montrose Center,

401 Branard St,  Houston, TX 77006

as we discuss the threat this nomination poses and what steps YOU can take to defend our rights and save the Supreme Court.


Stand up. Fight back. Save the Supreme Court!


Do you want to learn why Kavanaugh is wrong for church-state separation and wrong for the Supreme Court?

To help you talk to others about this issue, use our conversation guide


Contact our senators to urge them to oppose this nomination.

Cornyn: 202-224-2934 713-572-3337   https://www.cornyn.senate.gov/contact 

Cruz:       202-224-5922   713-718-3057  https://www.cruz.senate.gov/?p=form&id=16

Send them a message suggested by AU by going here and clicking the link to the right of “Take Action.”




Americans United Attorney and Other Experts to Discuss Masterpiece Cakeshop Case in Houston



Worried about the fallout after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker that sought to discriminate against LGBTQ people on the basis of religious beliefs?  This decision is not really about religious freedom — it’s about discrimination!

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Texas Freedom Network and Equality Texas are headed to Houston to answer your questions and strategize about how to fight back!

Join us on July 19th to learn more about how Masterpiece affects the fight for equality, the implications of change in the Court and what you can do to protect yourself and others.

Since the Masterpiece decision, the opponents of equality have been proclaiming victory, asserting that the Court handed them a big win. The decision has clearly emboldened anti-LGBTQ groups and their supporters, leaving LGBTQ Texans to wonder if it’s open season for discrimination.

Get the answers you need from the experts, including Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Eric Rothschild. 

Click here for more information and to RSVP. And bring a friend or tell others about this event.


Event Details:

Houston Town Hall
July 19, 2018
6:30-8:30 p.m.
University of Houston Student Center South
Space City Room (Building 565)
4455 University Dr. Houston, TX 77004


Rothschild will also take part in town halls co-hosted by the three groups in Dallas on July 16, Waco on July 17 and San Antonio on July 18.     

Want to learn more about the Masterpiece case

    Find lots of information, including AU’s response to the ruling and analyses, at Masterpiece

    Read Rothschild’s blog post about the decision (written before the Muslim ban ruling)


Build the Wall (between Church and State)

Member comments:

Fascinating evening. Smart panel. Good turnout. Well organized.

Moderator and panel were sharp and interesting, resulting in stimulating and provocative audience participation

Last night was great. I’ve quoted several of the panelists today. They did a great job.

It was a terrific meeting and discussion.


Please view this event on YouTube here.
Panel discussion begins around the 18:00 mark.

Pictures of the event.

“Build the Wall (between Church and State)”


Americans United — Past, Present and Future

“Americans United– Past, Present and Future”



Join the Houston Chapter of

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

as we Honor the 25 Years of Leadership of

Barry W. Lynn

Ordained Minister, Lawyer, Author, Media Commentator and Retiring Executive Director of Americans United

and Celebrate the 70th anniversary of Americans United

Rev. Lynn will reflect on his retirement and AU’s 70th anniversary, and Bill Mefford, Americans United’s faith organizer, will join him to discuss the future of AU and religious freedom in America. Lynn, Mefford and our chapter board members will be available afterwards to answer questions and meet with supporters.


Monday, October 16, 2017

7:30 p.m.

Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church

1900 Bering Drive, Houston

Please use south driveway entrance for this event


Free and open to the public Plenty of free parking


Reception will follow program, so please let us know if you’re coming at americansunited.houstonchapter@gmail.com


Be a Part of AU’s Future

For more information about Barry Lynn and his pending retirement, visit this special section of AU’s website.


2017 Annual Meeting: The Future of Public Education in the Era of Betsy DeVos – April 24, 2017

Houston chapter president Nancy Friedman welcomes guests

Moderator Juliet Stipeche

Moderator & panelists

John D. Ogletree, Jr. speaking

Zeph Capo speaking




















Becoming an Effective Activist – March 12, 2017

Watch this program on our Houston Chapter’s YouTube page.
See below flyer for pictures from the event.

Toni VanPelt and Houston Black Nonbelievers on RFRA

Americans United for Separation of Church and State Houston Chapter is cosponsoring this presentation by Toni Van Pelt.

Ms. Van Pelt is a member of Americans United’s National Leadership Council.


‘God and Governing’ events

You’re invited to a free showing of “God & Governing,” produced by the Texas Tribune, and a discussion afterwards about the intersection of faith and politics at the Texas legislature.

The God & Governing project emerged during the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature, as it became evident that discussions of God and faith were underscoring a greater share of political discourse – and disagreement – than in the recent past. The Tribune invited lawmakers to discuss how faith influenced their public policy decisions, resulting in this 27-minute video.

2016 Annual Meeting with the Rev. Barry Lynn

2016 Annual Meeting featuring Rev. Barry Lynn speaking on Separation Anxiety: What is the Future of Church/State Separation? May 18, 2016

The Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, civil liberties activist, lawyer and acclaimed speaker and writer, spoke about “Separation Anxiety: What is the Future of Church/State Separation?” on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. You can watch his speech on our Houston Chapter’s YouTube page.

John Nichols on The Crumbling Wall

On November 17, 2015, renowned journalist and commentator John Nichols of The Nation gave a rousing talk on “The Crumbling Wall: Religion in Presidential Politics” at a program of our Houston chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. His impassioned talk was timely in light of current events and was well-received by the 200+ who attended. John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech in Houston about his belief in an absolute separation of church and state was shown first, setting the stage for Mr. Nichol’s contemporary perspective. Congregation Emanu El’s beautiful sanctuary was a lovely venue.

Thanks to Lewis Krinsky, who organized the event, ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke, who introduced Mr. Nichols, and Lewis and Ellen Krinsky, who hosted a reception with wonderful pastries and refreshments following the speech.

Watch the program here:

Americans United Director of Communications Rob Boston in Houston – Sept. 9, 2014

Director of Communications Rob Boston in Houston


Speaking at public gathering about “Religious Freedom: What it is and What it is Not”


Watch an excerpt from Rob’s presentation at


Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper – July 1, 2014

Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper speaks in Houston on “God, Greece and the Supreme Court’s Decision on Government Prayer”

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2014 Annual Meeting



Speaker Margaret Doughty and Houston chapter president Nancy Friedman

Speaker Margaret Doughty and Houston chapter president Nancy Friedman

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Monthly Chapter Board Meetings

All chapter members are welcome to attend chapter board meetings.  Our chapter board welcomes members’ input and participation in our meetings.

The meetings are usually held on the second Saturday of every month at 10:30 a.m.  The resurgence of the coronavirus and the continued closure of public libraries have forced us to keep meeting virtually. Our next meeting will be Saturday, February 12, 2022 by Zoom.  If you’d like to join us, please email us and we’ll send you the Zoom link.

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