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Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United or AU for short) is a group which advocates separation of church and state, a legal doctrine interpreted by AU as being enshrined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.


The guiding principle of Americans United is that all Americans have the constitutional right to practice the religion of their choice, or refrain from taking part in religion, as individual conscience dictates, and that government must remain neutral in matters of religion.

The group supports:
  • The free exercise of religion.
  • Separation of church and state.
  • Judicial nominees that strongly support separation of church and state.
  • The right of each religious group to define marriage on its own terms.

The group opposes:


Americans United is officially non-sectarian and non-partisan. Its national headquarters are in Washington, D.C.marker.It has both religious and non-religious members, as well as members from various political parties. Many members of the clergy have been involved in the work of Americans United.Its current executive director, Barry W. Lynn, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ as well as an attorney long active on behalf of civil liberties.


Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947 as "Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State" by a broad coalition of religious, educational and civic leaders in response to proposals pending in the U.S. Congress to extend government aid to private religious schools. Many Americans opposed this idea, insisting that government support for religious education would violate church-state separation. The decision was made to form a national organization to promote this point of view and defend the separation principle.The organization aimed to influence political leaders, and it began publishing Church & State magazine and other materials in support of church-state separation to educate the general public. These activities continue today and form the core of Americans United’s operations.

In its first years a main focus of AU's activity was opposition to the political agenda of the Roman Catholic Church and it was seen by critics as an anti-Catholic organization.In 1960 AU Executive Director Glenn L. Archer entered into a dialog with presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to assess his views on church-state relations. In a letter to Archer, Kennedy assured him of his support for the First Amendment. Kennedy later responded to concerns about his faith in his famous speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, delivered September 12 1960 at the Rice Hotel in Houstonmarker Texasmarker.

In his memoir The Dream Lives On, Archer praised Kennedy's views on church-state separation, saying they were the best of any president since Thomas Jefferson.

In 1962 and 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down landmark rulings striking down government-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Calls soon began emanating from Congress to amend the Constitution to protect the "right to pray in school." But Americans United defended the rulings, pointing out that no branch of government has the right to compel children to take part in religious worship and that truly voluntary student prayer remained legal.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s the "Religious Right", especially Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, attacked church-state separation, tried to introduce fundamentalist theology into the public schools and demanded tax subsidies for religious education. Americans United helped secure a string of court victories that turned back these attempts.

In the 1990s Religious Right forces regrouped under Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition of America. This organization demanded an end to public education and called for the “Christianization” of politics. Americans United publicized and opposed this agenda.

In recent years AU has continued to oppose religion in public life and public schools, school-voucher initiatives in the states, and “faith-based” initiatives in the federal government and in the states.AU participated in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which concerned the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classes.

Americans United has tried to ensure that houses of worship do not endorse or oppose candidates for public office, which would violate their religious tax exemption. AU has submitted reports of possible violations to the IRS. The organization encourages its members to monitor sermons and activities in local houses of worship for illegal politicking.

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