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Collection Overview

Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Americans United for Separation of Church and State Records
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
87 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-87


The organization that became Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947 to protect church-state separation and religious freedom, as well as to educate lawmakers, religious leaders, and the general public regarding Constitutional religious liberties. The records document the administration and issues of the organization from its founding and include correspondence, meeting materials, and publications.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The records document the administration and issues of the organization from its founding and include correspondence, meeting materials, and publications. The majority of the papers are the correspondence and other files of executive committee members, notably Robert Puckett and Richard Puckett. Other records include the meeting minutes of the Board of Trustees and National Advisory Council, publicity materials and publications, and records related to legal cases, conferences, and other projects.

Collection Creator Biography:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

The organization that became Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947 to protect church-state separation and religious freedom, as well as to educate lawmakers, religious leaders, and the general public regarding Constitutional religious liberties. The organization also participates in court cases and acts as a liaison between its members and the United States Congress.

Americans United was founded as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State (POAU) on November 20, 1947 in Chicago and officially incorporated in 1948. In Chicago, a group of prominent churchmen, educators, and civic leaders met to discuss the need to increase public understanding of and support for the constitutional principle of church-state separation. At the meeting, the group approved the Manifesto defining the goals of POAU and establishing the national structure, which includes a national office and state and local chapters. The Manifesto, largely written by Charles Clayton Morrison, established that the group would defend and repair the "wall of separation between church and state" with a focus on keeping church separate from the public education system. Dr. Glenn L. Archer, dean of Washburn University Law School, was appointed the organization's first executive director in July 1948. He served the organization in this capacity until 1976. In March 1949, the group had sufficent support to purchase a building for their headquarters in Washington, D.C. Except for the period 1969-1994, when they were located in the Washington suburb Silver Spring, Maryland, Americans United has been located in Washington, D.C.

POAU was founded largely because of the climate in the United States permitting government support of religious schools, notably the 1947 Supreme Court decision of Everson v. Board of Education that affirmed the principle of the separation of church and state but approved busing children to parochial schools at public expense on the grounds that it provided welfare to the child, not the school. Fearing that this would provide justification for other federal funding to parochial schools, POAU instituted a multifaceted, proactive program to educate the American public on the issues at stake and raise support for church-state separation. They began a bimonthly newsletter, Church and State, in 1948 which became monthly in 1949. Also in 1949, the group held the first national conference on church and state. The conference grew quickly, attracting 4,000 attendees to the second conference. They produced pamphlets, brochures, and issue papers which were distributed nationwide, and Archer and other staff members spoke at numerous events around the country as well as speaking with members of Congress and state legislatures.

In the 1950s, POAU expanded their efforts to other church-state separation fronts while continuing to oppose tax funding for religious schools. One early success for the organization was a state court ruling in 1949 removing Catholic control of a public school in Dixon, New Mexico. POAU continued to file lawsuits to free other "captive schools," public schools under the control of a particular religious group. Other important issues for POAU were challenging religiously based censorship, such as information on birth control, and successfully protesting against the appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.

Beginning in 1952, POAU fought numerous attempts to provide "parochiaid," government funding to parochial schools for books, transportation, or general expenses. In 1969, Americans United joined a Pennsylvania coalition in the lawsuit Lemon v. Kurtzman, which lead to a significant parochiaid decision striking down various forms of tax aid to religious schools. Subsequently, supporters of parochial aid put their efforts into providing aid to parents and students, such as educational vouchers and parental choice movements. Another important issue for POAU was prayer and religious instruction in public schools. In 1962 and 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court declared government-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in public schools as unconstitutional, which marked the beginning of repeated efforts to amend the Constitution to allow for school prayer and worship. POAU opposed each attempted amendment in their publications and by testifying before Congress. In 1972, the organization was officially renamed Americans United for Separation of Church and State after a decade of being referred to as Americans United.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the rise of the modern Religious Right became a point of concern for Americans United. Groups of fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants such as Reverend Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition became politically powerful. Many of their issues violate the church-state separation principle, including teaching creationism in science classes, tax aid for private religious schools through education vouchers or tax subsidies, and banning abortion. Americans United helped win a series of court victories against many of these issues, and also raised awareness among the American public about the agenda of these groups. Their victories included defeats in the U.S. Senate of President Ronald Reagan's tuition tax credit proposal (1983) and school prayer amendment (1984).

During this period, for the first time, Americans United experienced a change in executive director. Archer stepped down in 1976 and was replaced by Andrew Leigh Gunn from 1976 to 1978. In 1979, Richard G. Puckett, a Southern Baptist minister and editor and journalist for several Baptist journals, became director. He served in this role until 1982, when he was replaced by W. Melvin Adams. Adams, a Seventh-day Adventist minister, had been active in Americans United since 1960, including as a board member. Dr. Robert L. Maddox, a Baptist minister and former Carter White House official, became executive director in 1984. The most recent change was in 1992, when Barry Lynn was appointed. Lynn is a civil liberties activist and attorney whose career includes serving as legislative counsel with the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as being an ordained United Church of Christ minister. As of 2010, Lynn remains as executive director of Americans United.

As of 2010, Americans United remains an active organization in the effort to preserve the separation of church and state. The group maintains a presence in state and national legislatures, fights cases in state and federal courts, continues to publish Church & State and other publications, continues to sponsor an annual conference on church and state, and works with the media to ensure coverage of church-state issues is fair and even. Americans United receives dozens of requests a week for information or assistance on separation of church and state issues. Although the particular issues have evolved, the main focus of the organization continues to be maintaining religious neutrality in the public school system and preventing tax money to be used for religious schools and ministries.

Collection History


Gift of Americans United for Separation of Church and State in April 1994 . Additional material was given in 2007 [ML.2007.016], 2011 [ML.2011.003], and 2015 [ML.2015.001].


Duplicate copies of Church and State were separated from this collection in 2010. No material was separated from the January 2011 accession. A run of Church and State dating from April 2011-May 2013 in the 2015 accession was separated for library cataloging.


These papers were processed with the generous support of the Charl Ormond Williams Trust.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Adriane Hanson with the assistance of Jamie LaMontagne and Grace Haaland in 2010. Finding aid written by Adriane Hanson in May 2010. Materials in the January 2011 accession were added to the collection. A folder list was created for this material during accessioning in 2011 and the collection MARC record and finding aid were updated at this time. Materials in the 2015 accession were added to the collection by Rachel Van Unen.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Executive Director records are restricted for 15 years from their date of origin, and Board of Trustees and National Advisory Council material is restricted for 5 years.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, any copyright vested in the donor has passed to The Trustees of Princeton University and researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of donor-created materials within the collection. For materials in the collection not created by the donor, or where the material is not an original, the copyright is likely not held by the University. In these instances, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State Records; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-87

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Related Materials

Collections at the Mudd Manuscript Library that include materials on religious liberties include the records of the American Civil Liberties Union Records, Freedom House, and Fund for the Republic. The papers of one of the founders, G. Bromley Oxnam, are located at the Library of Congress (


Issues of Church & State and the Americans United website were consulted during preparation of biographical note.

Subject Terms:
Constitutional law -- United States -- Cases.
Religion in the public schools -- Law and legislation.
Genre Terms:
Press releases.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
United States
Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Archer, Glenn L.
Maddox, Robert L.
Puckett, Richard G.