Americans United for Separation of Church and State

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Americans United is an advocacy group working through education, research, litigation, and lobbying to encourage the maintenance of a strict, Jeffersonian interpretation of church-state separation. Originally named Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Americans United was founded in 1947 in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Everson decision. That decision, permitting the use of public funds to provide transportation for parochial school students, and the presidential nomination of General Mark Clark as ambassador to the Vatican in 1951 served as symbols of the decline of Protestant hegemony in the United States and galvanized opposition to the growing influence of Catholicism among those who assumed that a stronger Catholic Church would threaten church-state separation.

Americans United was launched with the publication of a manifesto signed by many prominent Protestant churchmen setting forth its objectives: enlightenment of public opinion on religious liberty, prevention of further breaches in the wall of separation between Church and State, opposition to diplomatic relations with the Vatican, repeal of laws granting public funds to parochial schools, invoking the aid of the courts in maintaining the separation of Church and State, opposition to federal aid to parochial schools, and protection of the public schools from sectarian domination. Though its original name suggests a close tie to Protestant churches, Americans United is an independent association that draws its support from a variety of individuals and groups sharing its interest in the church-state issue. Its activities are informed by commitment to a strict interpretation of the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and its support derives from those who fear the encroachment of government in the affairs of the churches as well as those troubled by the involvement of churches in the affairs of state.

Americans United initially focused on what it perceived to be the Catholic threat to church-state separation. It judged the Catholic Church to be hostile to the concept of church-state separation as enunciated in the First Amendment and was particularly troubled by efforts to secure public funding for parochial schools either directly or through funding for transportation, textbooks, special education, etc. As recently as the 1960 presidential election, Americans United posed "Questions for a Catholic Candidate," compelling John Kennedy to explicate his commitment to church-state separation and the common schools and his opposition "to the federal government's extending support to sustain any church or its schools." At least three events of the 1960s combined to alter the national discourse on church-state issues. First was the election of the nation's first Catholic president and his maintenance of a church-state posture that many Protestants regarded as their own. Another was the Second Vatican Council and its decisive "Declaration on Religious Freedom," which served to assure critics that Catholicism could support a liberal society in which Church and State were separate. Finally, the Great Society programs of the Lyndon Johnson administration greatly enlarged the sphere of church-state interrelationships in broad areas of social services and higher education and compelled Protestant churches to face problems that had hitherto appeared to be uniquely Catholic.

In the 1990s, the picture was complicated by the emergence on the conservative wing of Protestantism of churches and organizations advocating governmental support for religiously based moral values and sometimes for religious schools. As a result of these fundamental changes, Americans United cannot now, if it ever could, be regarded as the voice of Protestantism. Nor is it now likely to be regarded as simply anti-Catholic, in the light of its strident rhetoric against faith-based initiatives by the State. In continuing its traditional advocacy of strict separation, Americans United has turned its focus to perceived threats to church-state separation from Protestant and governmental sources.

The organization's monthly magazine, Church and State, includes articles, reviews, editorials, accounts of state and federal governmental activities, and news of interesting activities and statements relative to the church-state issue. Its head office is in Washington, D.C.

Bibliography: g. l. archer and a. j. menendez, The Dream Lives On: The Story of Glenn L. Archer and Americans United (Washington 1982); Church and State (Silver Spring, Md. 1948). l. p. creedon and w. d. falcon, United for Separation: An Analysis of POAU Assaults on Catholicism (Milwaukee, Wis. 1959). r. f. drinan, Religion, the Courts, and Public Policy (New York 1963). c. s. lowell, The Great Church-State Fraud (Washington 1973). e. a. smith, Religious Liberty in the United States (Philadelphia, Pa. 1972). m. s. stedman, jr., Religion and Politics in America (New York 1964). r. boston, "Watchdog on the Wall: The Americans United Story," Church and State 50 (Nov. 1997) 223226.

[s. c. pearson/eds.]

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State

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