Americans United for Separation of Church and State

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State
FoundedJanuary 11, 1948; 75 years ago (1948-01-11)[1]
FoundersCharles Clayton Morrison,
Glenn L. Archer,
Edwin McNeill Poteat,
G. Bromley Oxnam,
Joseph Martin Dawson[2][3]
Legal status501(c)(3) nonprofit organization[4]
PurposeTo preserve the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.
Headquarters1310 L Street NW, Suite 200,
Washington, D.C. 20005
Coordinates38°54′13″N 77°01′50″W / 38.903601°N 77.030532°W / 38.903601; -77.030532Coordinates: 38°54′13″N 77°01′50″W / 38.903601°N 77.030532°W / 38.903601; -77.030532
Area served
United States
MethodLitigation, education
Over 75,000[5]
Rachel Laser[6]
Chris Colburn[7]
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015)$6,223,371[4]
Employees (2014)
Volunteers (2014)
Formerly called
Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State[8]

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United or AU for short) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advocates for the disassociation of religion and religious organizations from government. The separation of church and state in the United States is often accepted to be provided in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

AU has been labeled "liberal" by the Associated Press (AP).[citation needed]


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 former executive director, Barry W. Lynn, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ,[9] as well as an attorney involved with civil liberties issues.


Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded on January 11, 1948,[1] as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State (POAU) by a coalition of religious, educational and civic leaders. It was made 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.[8] 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. It successfully protested against the appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. They denounced the Catholic Church for disdaining democracy in the U.S. and worldwide.[10]

Officially incorporated on January 29, 1948,[11] 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.[12]

Its original founding members were Charles Clayton Morrison, Glenn L. Archer,[2] Edwin McNeill Poteat, G. Bromley Oxnam, and Joseph Martin Dawson.[3]

Notable work[edit]

Americans United was one of three national organizations that opposed the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania, public schools. A federal judge struck down the policy in December 2005 (see Kitzmiller v. Dover). AU supports the right for gays and lesbians to marry, and opposes laws that would permit government officials, such as county clerks, from invoking religious freedom when refusing to issue such marriage licenses. AU started a "Protect Thy Neighbor" project to oppose such conscience legislation.[13]

Americans United represented residents of Greece, New York, who opposed that town's practice of opening its council meetings with mostly Christian prayers. AU lost the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that legislative prayers do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After the decision was issued, Americans United launched Operation Inclusion to advocate for making prayers "inclusive".[14]

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, the Church at Pierce Creek, to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after the church ran newspaper ads telling people not to vote for Bill Clinton. The IRS subsequently stripped the church of its 501(c)(3) determination letter. After the church filed suit in federal court to get the determination letter back, the court noted, "because of the unique treatment churches receive under the Internal Revenue Code, the impact of the revocation is likely to be more symbolic than substantial.... Contributions will remain tax deductible as long as the donors are able to establish that the Church meets the requirements of section 501(c)(3)."[15] Churches do not need a tax-exempt determination letter to receive all of the benefits of tax-exempt status.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18] AU's executive director for 25 years, Barry W. Lynn, is a critic of religious fundamentalism on the Christian right[19] and described himself as a member of the Christian left.[20]

Professor Daniel Dreisbach argues:

In the mid-20th century, the rhetoric of separation was revived and ultimately constitutionalized by anti-Catholic elites, such as...Protestants and other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State...who feared the influence and wealth of the Catholic Church and perceived parochial education as a threat to public schools and democratic values.[21]

The Catholic lay apostolate Church Militant classifies AU as a "hate group" based on the claim that AU advances "the hateful policies based on wrong interpretations of the relationship between Church and State."[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "New Protestant Group Seeks Taylor Recall From Vatican". The Baltimore Sun. January 12, 1948. p. 1.
  2. ^ a b "Biography: Americans United for Separation of Church and State". Princeton.
  3. ^ a b Embattled Wall: Americans United, an Idea and a Man. Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 1966. p. 27.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Guidestar. September 30, 2015.
  5. ^ "About | Americans United". Archived from the original on April 25, 2017. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  6. ^ "[1]". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Retrieved January 28, 2023.
  7. ^ "Our Staff". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Americans United for Separation of Church and State Records (MC185): Americans United for Separation of Church and State Records". Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  9. ^ "About | Americans United". Archived from the original on November 30, 2016. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  10. ^ Elesha J. Coffman (2013). The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline. Oxford UP. p. 149. ISBN 9780199938605.
  11. ^ "Americans United for Separation of Church and State". Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Government of the District of Columbia. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  12. ^ OCLC 752009655, 235992965; ISSN 0009-6334
  13. ^ "Protect Thy Neighbor". Protect Thy Neighbor. April 25, 2017. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  14. ^ "Operation Inclusion | Americans United". Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  15. ^ "Branch Ministries and Dan Little, Pastor, Appellants v. Charles O. Rossotti, Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service, Appellee, 211 F.3d 137 (D.C. Cir. 2000)". Justia Law. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  16. ^ "Churches, Integrated Auxiliaries, and Conventions or Associations of Churches | Internal Revenue Service". Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  17. ^ Jane Lynch and Jordan Peele's Epic Church-State Breakup!. YouTube. May 30, 2013. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  18. ^ "The Wall of Separation", Time, February 7, 1949, archived from the original on January 31, 2011
  19. ^ Chumley, Cheryl (June 13, 2014). "Rep. Louie Gohmert challenges the Rev. Barry Lynn on Christian beliefs". The Washington Times. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  20. ^ Clarkson, Frederick (2008). Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. Ig Publishing. ISBN 978-0978843182.
  21. ^ Daniel L. Dreisbach, "The Meaning of the Separation of Church and State" in Derek H. Davis, ed. (2017). The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States. Oxford University Press. p. 219. ISBN 9780195326246.
  22. ^ "List of Hate Groups".

External links[edit]