Rachel Laser

Rachel Laser will deliver the university’s 2024 Baccalaureate address Saturday, May 18.

Social Justice Advocate Rachel Laser Named 2024 Baccalaureate Speaker

A major university event, Baccalaureate will be held at 4 p.m. on May 18 in Packer Memorial Chapel.

Rachel Laser, the president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, will deliver the university’s 2024 Baccalaureate address Saturday, May 18, at 4 p.m. in Packer Memorial Church. Baccalaureate is a major university event during commencement weekend.

Laser, a lawyer and social justice advocate, has centered her professional life on issues of freedom, equality and inclusion in public policy. Before assuming her present position, she served as a senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center and as the director of the Culture Program at Third Way, a Washington, D.C. think-tank dedicated to building common ground between progressives and evangelical Christians on a variety of controversial issues.

As deputy director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, she ran interfaith campaigns on gun-violence prevention, paid family leave, gender equality and immigration reform. She has briefed members of Congress, White House staffers and political consultants, and she has testified before Congress on issues related to church-state separation. Her media appearances include MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC and ABC, and she has written opinion pieces for various publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Rev. Dr. Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain and professor of religion studies, said Laser speaks to some of the most contentious issues of our time.

“Rachel Laser has a track record of standing strong for advancing social justice and human dignity while also bridging the many divides in our country—racial, social, economic and, increasingly these days, religious,” he said.

Laser has been described as a “freedom fighter,” and the organization she leads, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is dedicated to preserving religious freedom through educational outreach and legal challenges. Americans United is a familiar presence in court cases where the constitutional issue of church-state separation is at issue.

“If democracy is under threat as so may seem to think these days,” Steffen added, “we must turn attention to the relation of religion and government, for this is a major arena where the effort to preserve constitutional freedoms and build democracy is going to play out. Our graduating students are going to face serious questions about their responsibilities as citizens in the days ahead, and our hope is that Ms. Laser can by her words and by her activist example provide some much needed guidance as we confront these challenges.”

Led by Steffen, the Baccalaureate program includes choral music and the presentation or “farewell address” to graduating seniors. The original Baccalaureate ceremony dates back to the 14th Century, where it was held at Oxford University.

Students representing different religious traditions participate in the program.

Reservations are not required.

Laser graduated with honors from Harvard University, a history and literature major. She founded the Harvard Women’s Center. After graduation, she went on to study law, receiving her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, where she was invited onto the staff of that institution’s Law Review. She interned for U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte, and has served as a Georgetown Law School public law mentor and as general counsel for Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington. She is married, the mother of three adult children, and makes her home in Washington, D.C.

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