The Separation of Church and State

AU’s Top Ten of 2023: Exposing the Shadow Network of Christian Nationalists

  Liz Hayes

Editor’s Note: This is the final blog post in our series to recount the top 10 church-state stories from 2023. Today we highlight AU’s work to expose the Shadow Network of Christian Nationalists working to undermine church-state separation. After today, the “Wall of Separation” blog will be on hiatus until early January 2024. Happy new year!

Americans United in the last year has ramped up our efforts to expose what we have dubbed the Shadow Network. This billion-dollar, clandestine web of Christian Nationalist organizations, conservative billionaires and powerful political allies at all levels of government is working to upend democracy and equality by undermining the separation of church and state.

The powerbrokers at the center of this network handpick Supreme Court justices, engineer cases for those justices to decide and craft alternative facts or “deceitful narratives” for the media and justices to use when discussing these legal controversies. They stalk statehouses and other halls of power to advance policies and legislation that will impose their beliefs on everyone else. Their goal is an officially Christian nation, and nothing is safe, including our democracy.

Supreme Court cases typify Shadow Network’s work

We saw them at work in our Kennedy v. Bremerton School District case in 2022, when First Liberty Institute misrepresented a public high school football coach’s coercive prayers on the 50-yard line with students as private, personal prayers. We saw them at work in this year’s 303 Creative v. Elenis case, when Alliance Defending Freedom manufactured the case of a Colorado website designer who wanted to refuse to serve LGBTQ+ couples. We see them at work in every new story that comes out about ethics violations at the U.S. Supreme Court, book bans and curriculum censorship in public schools, and legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ equality, reproductive freedom, public education, racial justice and more.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson a new, powerful ally

And now that they have a powerful ally in U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) as Speaker of the House and second in line to the presidency, exposing the Shadow Network is more important than ever.

That’s why AU has created a new resource on our website where we’re identifying and cataloguing the organizations, individuals, and activities that make up this Shadow Network. We’re just getting started, so keep checking back for new information. We’ll also be continuing our emails series on the Shadow Network; sign up for our emails to stay informed at And consider becoming a member to support our efforts to expose and defeat this threat to church-state separation and our democracy.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now