For the first time, a woman and non-Christian will lead this group that thinks government is too involved in religion

By Michelle Boorstein

One of the country’s most prominent advocacy groups pushing to protect the boundaries between religion and government is getting its first new leader in a quarter-century.

Rachel Laser, a lawyer and longtime advocate on issues related to reproductive freedom, LGBT equality and racism, is the new executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. She is the first woman and, as a Jew, the first non-Christian to lead the 71-year-old group.

Laser, 48, takes over the organization at a time when Americans are especially bitter and fragmented about religion’s role in public life. From President Trump’s travel ban on people from multiple Muslim-majority countries to a pending Supreme Court case over whether American businesses can legally refuse to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds, religion is colliding in new ways with other issues and rights.

And in an increasingly diverse America, there is little agreement on what is meant by “religion” and when the state is becoming too involved or not enough. Should the government protect health-care workers who don’t want to be involved in contraception or abortion on religious grounds — or the woman who seeks them, or both? Should the government direct public funding to public and religious schools equally? Should the government take special care to honor Christian holidays — because most Americans are Christian?

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