|Founded||January 11, 1948|
|Founders||Charles Clayton Morrison,|
Glenn L. Archer,
Edwin McNeill Poteat,
G. Bromley Oxnam,
Joseph Martin Dawson
|Legal status||501(c)(3) nonprofit organization|
|Purpose||To preserve the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.|
|Headquarters||1310 L Street NW, Suite 200,|
Washington, D.C. 20005
|Rev. Dr. Neal R. Jones|
|Rachel K. Laser|
|Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State|
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United or AU for short) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advocates separation of church and state. 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, 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 former executive director, Barry W. Lynn, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, as well as an attorney involved with civil liberties issues.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded on January 11, 1948, 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. 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.
Officially incorporated on January 29, 1948, 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.
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). 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.
Americans United represented residents of Greece, New York, 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.
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, 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)." Churches do not need a tax-exempt determination letter to receive all of the benefits of tax-exempt status.
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. The AU's executive director for 25 years, Reverend Barry W. Lynn, is a critic of religious fundamentalism on the Christian right. and describes himself as a member of the Christian left.
Professor Daniel Dreisbach argues:
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."