For more than seven decades, Americans United has fought to preserve the church-state wall. Here are some of our most impressive victories.
The cornerstone of personal freedoms
Separation of church and state is the cornerstone of many of our personal freedoms. Without church-state separation, we can no longer be a free society.
Separation of church and state keeps our public schools focused on teaching, not preaching. It ensures that our most intimate decisions, such as who we will marry and whether to have children, rest in our hands. It protects our right to worship, or not worship, as we see fit. These vital rights are not self-executing. They need support from Americans. Americans United rallies those defenders. While the full scope of AU’s work is too broad to outline briefly, here are some highlights from decades past.
1950s: AU Fights For Birth Control Access
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Americans United fought for the right of Americans to make decisions about reproduction and family planning without religious interference. AU highlighted oppressive laws in some states that banned birth control and rallied opposition.
The U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark 1965 ruling adopted the position long held by Americans United and declared the use of birth control a private matter within the constitutional zone of privacy.
1960s: AU Sets The Record Straight On School Prayer
In 1962 and ‘63, the Supreme Court issued landmark rulings making it clear that public schools could not pressure or compel students to take part in religious worship by sponsoring prayer and Bible readings.
These decisions were widely misunderstood, and AU acted quickly to correct the record. AU pointed out that truly voluntary prayer and Bible reading was still legal in schools and that only coercive practices were banned. Sixty years later, AU is still responding to Religious Right misinformation about these rulings.
1960s and ’70s: AU Defends Public Education
When sectarian pressure groups, private school advocates and anti-government extremists joined forces to divert taxpayer funding away from public schools and toward private and religious institutions, Americans United was quick to respond. AU’s charter listed defense of public schools, which welcome children of all faith and non-faith backgrounds, as a primary goal.
Thanks to AU’s work, ballot proposals to award tax money to private schools through voucher schemes were defeated by voters in state after state -- a trend that continues today.
1980s: AU Debunks The Lies Of The Religious Right
The rise of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and other “pro-family” groups presented a new challenge to Americans United. These organizations relentlessly attack church-state separation, labeling it “unconstitutional” and even “un-American.”
Americans United immediately leaped to the defense of the church-state wall and corrected the record. In Congress, in state legislatures, in courts of law and in the court of public opinion, AU met the Religious Right and demolished its facetious arguments, reminding all Americans that separation of church and state is uniquely American, a concept crafted by our Founders of which we can be proud.
1990s: AU Blocks Religious Extremists’ Attempt To Rewrite First Amendment
Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his extremists allies in the Religious Right attempted to add a so-called “Religious Freedom Amendment” to the Constitution in 1994. The amendment had nothing to do with religious freedom -- it would have compelled students to pray in public schools, forced Americans to pay taxes to support religious groups and allowed government to endorse the signs, symbols and words of the majority faith.
AU and its allies swung into action. Thanks for our campaign to educate the public, opposition to the amendment mounted, and it failed to pass the House.
2000s: Americans United Fights The ‘Faith-Based’ Initiative
The presidency of George W. Bush ushered in a new threat -- the so-called “faith-based” initiative. Bush proposed funnelling millions to religious groups to provide social services -- without adequate safeguards to protect those in need.
AU was an early critic of the proposal, and we worked throughout the decade to ensure that faith-based programs did not become a license to discriminate -- a position we still take today. The Obama administration added protections to the program in an attempt to ensure that faith-based organizations did not use government money to discriminate, exclude or proselytize.
2010s: Americans United Battles For Marriage Equality And LGBTQ Rights
As state and federal courts began recognizing marriage equality, aggressive Christian nationalist groups stepped up their efforts to base marriage law on theology by limiting marriage to one man and one woman. AU pushed back, insisting that marriage equality opponents articulate a secular rationale for their views, which they were unable to do.
When some local courts resisted the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that had the effect of legalizing marriage equality nationwide, AU went to court and won important victories on behalf of same-sex couples.
2016-2020: Americans United Fights The Trump Administration’s Attacks On Religious Freedom
Donald Trump, swept into office with strong support from Christian nationalists, represented the most serious threat to church-state separation in the modern era. To appease his base, Trump issued a series of executive orders and policy changes that allowed for religion-based discrimination in a host of federal programs.
Americans United met Trump in court, winning important victories. AU also exposed the troubling connections between Trump and religious extremists and educated Americans about the threat Trump and his allies posed to our rights.
75 Years Of Activism
For more than 75 years, Americans United’s support for religious freedom protected by the church-state wall has never wavered. We’ve stood up for Americans’ right to decide for themselves when, how and if they want to worship and which religious groups, if any, to support. Join us!