In the fall of 1987, I was looking for a new job when an interesting opportunity came to my attention: a magazine about church-state relations was looking for an assistant editor.
I’ll admit I was a bit surprised. Could you really publish a magazine every month about separation of church and state? Indeed you could, as I quickly learned after I got the job. My first story appeared in the December 1987 issue of Church & State. It was about President Ronald W. Reagan’s decision to nominate a federal appeals court judge named Anthony M. Kennedy to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Today we mark an important anniversary for AU’s magazine: The first issue – then called Church And State Newsletter – rolled off the presses on May 15, 1948.
Technically, there might not have been a press involved. The first issue, a mere four pages long, looks like it was produced on a typewriter – remember those? That’s not surprising. Americans United had been launched in November of the previous year, and things were still coming together. One gets the feeling it was a bit of a shoestring operation back then.
The magazine soon took on a more professional appearance. Over the years, the design changed to reflect the times, but one thing remained the same: Church & State has continued to be the only monthly journal providing regular news and analysis of developments in the world of church-state separation – and its stands unabashedly in favor of the wall of separation between church and state.
We’ve had no problems filling our pages. Issues such as the role of religion in public education, government attempts to give tax aid to religious institutions, controversies over the display of religious symbols on public property, the proper intersection of religion and politics and others keep us busy.
The rise of the Religious Right in the late 1970s gave us even more things to write about. The emergence of the LGBTQ rights movement and the subsequent pushback led by theocratic groups that have attempted to use religious freedom as an instrument of discrimination have provided plenty of copy as well. Most recently, the Donald Trump-Mike Pence administration gives us regular fodder.
We have plenty of ways to disseminate information these days. When I started here 31 years ago, the words “website” and “blog” would have made no sense because those things didn’t exist, and a tweet was something a bird did.
I appreciate that we can communicate at lightning speed now. The range of options available – an email, a Facebook posting, a blog entry, a text message, etc. – makes us more efficient. Americans United uses all of those tools, including posting Church & State online. But at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, there’s something about a physical magazine that still appeals to me. I love the slower pace of print and the tactile experience of handling a paper journal. I like turning pages, underlining good passages and seeing photos in all of their glossy glory.
Dues-paying members of Americans United support all of our activities – legal action, education of government officials, media outreach, grassroots activism, etc. They also get Church & State in their mailbox every month, which I like to think of as a nice bonus. If you’re not a member, I hope you’ll consider joining us – and I hope you’ll read Church & State every month.