Americans United for Separation of Church and State

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Logo of Americans United For Separation of Church and State, updated in 2014.png
Founded 1947
Area served
United States
Method Litigation, education
Over 75,000[1]
$6,921,251 USD (2007)[2]
Website Official website

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United or AU for short) is a group that advocates separation of church and state, a legal doctrine set forth in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."


Americans United describes itself as officially non-sectarian and non-partisan. According to The Praeger Handbook of Religion and Education in the United States "It includes members from a broad religious, and non-religious, spectrum, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists." Its national headquarters are in Washington, D.C.. Its current executive director, Barry W. Lynn, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ,[3] as well as an attorney involved with civil liberties issues.


Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947 as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State (POAU) by a coalition of religious, educational and civic leaders in response to proposals pending in the U.S. Congress to extend government aid to private religious schools, particularly Catholic parochial schools, which was at the time, and continues to be, the largest system of private schools in the United States.[4] They believed that government support for religious education would violate church-state separation and force taxpayers to subsidize sectarian education. The decision was made to form a national organization to promote and defend this point of view.

The organization aimed to influence political leaders, and began publishing Church & State magazine in 1952 and other materials in support of church-state separation to educate the general public.[5]

Its original founding members were Charles Clayton Morrison, Glenn L. Archer,[6] Edwin McNeill Poteat, G. Bromley Oxnam, and Joseph Martin Dawson.[7]

Recent work[edit]

Americans United was one of three national organizations that opposed the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, Pa., public schools. A federal judge struck down the policy in December 2005 (see Kitzmiller v. Dover). More recently, Americans United has worked to secure marriage equality for gays and lesbians and has opposed religious freedom laws that would permit government officials, such as county clerks who issue marriage licenses, to refuse to serve the LGBT community. Americans United runs a project called Protect Thy Neighbor to oppose such legislation.[8]

Americans United represented residents of Greece, N.Y., who opposed that city's practice of opening its council meetings with mostly Christian prayers. The case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. After the decision was issued, Americans United launched Operation Inclusion to ensure that such council prayers were as inclusive as possible.[9]

In recent years, Americans United has worked to uphold the federal law that bars non-profit groups, including houses of worship, from intervening in partisan politics. In 1992, the group reported a New York church to the IRS after the church ran newspaper ads telling people not to vote for Bill Clinton. The IRS subsequently stripped the church of its tax-exempt status.

In May 2013, Americans United released a parody video starring Jane Lynch and Jordan Peele as "Church" and "State", respectively, undergoing a humorous musical breakup.[10]

Reception by religious community[edit]

In its first years, a main focus of AU's activity was opposition to the political activities of the Roman Catholic Church and was thus seen by critics as a Protestant-based anti-Catholic organization.[11] The AU's executive director, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, is a critic of religious fundamentalism on the Christian right.[12] and describes himself as a member of the Christian left.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About | Americans United". Retrieved 2017-05-04. 
  2. ^ "Charity Navigator Rating - Americans United for Separation of Church and State". Charity Navigator. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  3. ^ "About | Americans United". Retrieved 2017-05-04. 
  4. ^ "Americans United for Separation of Church and State Records (MC185) : Americans United for Separation of Church and State Records". Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  5. ^ OCLC 752009655, 235992965; ISSN 0009-6334
  6. ^ "Biography: Americans United for Separation of Church and State". Princeton. 
  7. ^ Embattled Wall: Americans United, an Idea and a Man. Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 1966. p. 27. 
  8. ^ "Protect Thy Neighbor". Protect Thy Neighbor. 2017-04-25. Retrieved 2017-05-04. 
  9. ^ "Operation Inclusion | Americans United". Retrieved 2017-05-04. 
  10. ^ Jane Lynch and Jordan Peele's Epic Church-State Breakup!. YouTube. 30 May 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Wall of Separation", Time, 1949-02-07 
  12. ^ Chumley, Cheryl (13 June 2014). "Rep. Louie Gohmert challenges the Rev. Barry Lynn on Christian beliefs". The Washington Times. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  13. ^ Clarkson, Frederick (2008). Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. Ig Publishing. ISBN 978-0978843182. 

External links[edit]