Happy Birthday, Church & State magazine!
The first issue of the magazine you are holding in your hands (or reading online) rolled off the presses on May 15, 1948. We’re 75 years old this month.
Actually, “rolled off the presses” might be a generous way of putting it. The inaugural issue looks like it was produced on a typewriter and was photocopied — or more likely mimeographed, given the technology of the time. It’s only four pages long.
Americans United had been officially founded the year before, in 1947. But it was late in the year when AU was launched, and many of the organization’s activities didn’t get started in earnest until 1948. Among these was the production of Church & State.
A publication specially designed for members was always part of the plan, and prospective members were told to expect it. The organization’s founders issued a manifesto outlining their goals. They vowed to “enlighten and mobilize public opinion in support of religious liberty as this monumental principle of democracy has been embodied and implemented in the Constitution by the separation of church and state.”
That’s where Church & State came in. Originally known as Church And State Newsletter, AU’s membership organ played a key role in keeping members informed about the organization’s activities but also served to alert Americans to the threats to the church-state wall.
Before the rise of television — and many years later the internet and social media — print magazines were a popular method of communication. Put simply, as Americans United grew as an organization, it needed a vehicle to let its supporters know what was going on, what the organization was doing and how they could help. Church & State filled that role — and it still does 75 years later.
Church & State built a bridge between members all over the country and the AU staff headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was designed to bring members into closer connection with the organization, a role that continues.
I hope you’ll indulge me as I reflect on my personal connection to Church & State. First off, I want to make it clear that I love print publications. I read a lot of material online, but I’m not ready to shift to a screen full time and never plan to.
In high school, I delivered my Pennsylvania hometown’s daily paper, the Altoona Mirror, after school. (In the summer of 1983, I worked there as a reporter-intern.) I’d come home from delivering the papers with my hands covered with newspaper ink; metaphorically, that never let up for me. During my senior year in college, I served as editor in chief of our campus newspaper, a tabloid that was published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We had some long nights; sometimes, it might be 3 a.m. before I turned the galley pages over to the staff at the local daily that printed our publication, but I loved every minute of it.
After graduating, I worked for a small daily paper in central Pennsylvania for a time but eventually relocated to the D.C. area, hoping to find policy work. I’ll admit to being a little restless; I had lived all my life in Pennsylvania, rarely leaving the state. I was eager for new vistas, new experiences. I served as an editor for an association’s trade publication for two years while keeping my eye open for something in the policy realm that would spark my true interests.
Then I found Americans United. I still have the ad from the Employment section of The Washington Post. (Newspaper ads were how we got jobs back then — the “Help Wanted” ads in the Sunday paper went on for pages.)
“Americans United for Separation of Church and State seeks journalist to write and edit for monthly membership magazine,” it read. I was amazed. A history buff, I had been a big fan of the separation of church and state for years, and I was stunned to learn that an entire magazine was devoted to this crucial constitutional principle. This job was made for me! I applied that same day.
For the next 25 years, I worked as assistant editor of Church & State, under the careful eye of Joe Conn, the editor in chief. I learned more from Joe than I can say. He assigned me stories on every facet of church-state relations and sent me into the belly of the Religious Right beast to cover its conferences and events. I sat in the press gallery when the Supreme Court heard arguments in church-state cases and attended dozens of press conferences on Capitol Hill, usually clutching a spiral notebook and a microcassette recorder made by Radio Shack that at the time was absolutely cutting edge.
When Joe retired in 2013 after an amazing 33 years at Americans United, I assumed the editorship of Church & State and hired the awesome Liz Hayes as assistant editor. While I’ve made a few changes, the goal of the publication remains the same: to inform our readers about developments in church-state separation and the work of Americans United. We strive to give you facts and information that will enable you to be better advocates for this cause. That’s our commitment to you.
So, yes, I do remain a fan of print – the glossy page, the images that aren’t pixels, something substantial, something real — the kind of thing you can hold in your hands and stick a bookmark in. I believe many of AU’s members feel the same way, as Church & State remains a popular benefit of membership. Every month, we print extra copies to take to conferences and distribute to prospective members. The magazine is, if you’ll forgive this analogy, a key tool of evangelism when we preach the gospel of church-state separation.
Along the way, Church & State has won a few awards. In 2004, The Utne Reader gave Church & State an Independent Press Award for General Excellence.
Recognition like that is welcome, but we’re not in this to get prizes. Our aim at Americans United is to give our members what they want and meet them where they are. Some folks prefer to connect with AU on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Others enjoy a leisurely read through a print journal. It doesn’t have to be either/or; it’s both/and! We want to have something for everyone.
Obviously, this magazine has changed over the years. I have a complete set of issues in my office, and it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the journal over the years, not to mention to imagine what it must have been like to produce a magazine prior to the computer era when hot metal typesetting ruled.
Technology changed — and so did Church & State. What started as a simple black-and-white newsletter with no images grew into a four-color publication with art and photos and a modern design. And when I started in 1987, the idea of “posting it to the web” had no meaning because there was no web. We have strived to adapt to the times.
Whether it’s Church & State, emails or social media sites, we want to stay in touch. And our commitment to you is clear: to bring you the latest news and opinion about church-state separation and the activities of Americans United. We hope to give you the information you need to be an effective advocate and educated citizen.
AU will keep doing that, and Church & State will remain a part of that effort. Count on it. So please keep reading. And do know that I value your feedback. You can reach me at [email protected].