Over the years, Americans United has won many important church-state victories on many different fronts. The entire list is too long to post here, but some highlights include:
Religion and Public Schools
Since the early 1960s, Americans United has successfully opposed every proposed constitutional amendment designed to reintroduce official prayer and other forms of mandated worship in public schools. In the mid-1990s, AU took the lead in opposing a misguided “Religious Freedom Amendment” in Congress that would have not only mandated prayer in public schools but also taxed Americans to pay for religion and permitted the display of religious symbols at the seat of government. The amendment, a pet project of then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, received a vote in the House of Representatives. Thanks to AU’s leadership, it fell far short of the votes needed for passage.
Creationism in Science Classes
In a Pennsylvania case that attracted national and international attention, Americans United and our allies represented parents and taxpayers in Dover, Pa., who opposed the school board’s decision to introduce “intelligent design” creationism into public school science classes. Dubbed “Scopes II,” the trial last 40 days and involved an impressive array of expert witnesses. In a powerful opinion in 2006, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III struck down the scheme, holding that it violated the separation of church and state.
Read about it: Victory In Dover!
Opposing Voucher Subsidies for Religious Schools
Americans United has aggressively fought against taxpayer subsidies for religious schools since the organization was founded. We have testified in Congress and the state legislatures, filed lawsuits in federal and state courts and rallied opposition to voter referenda that would use public funds for private religious schools.
In 23 state referenda on religious school aid since 1967, AU and our allies have won each time, usually by broad margins. In 2000, a California proposition was defeated by a 71 percent-29 percent margin and in 2007, a Utah scheme lost by 62 percent-38 percent.
We have also had significant victories in the courts. Most recently, Americans United and friends thwarted a voucher plan crafted by the Douglas County (Colo.) School Board that would siphon funds away from public schools into the coffers of religious and other private schools. Representing local taxpayers and parents, we filed suit to block the scheme, noting that it violated both the Colorado Constitution and state law. A court agreed with AU.
The 2011 win comes seven years after Americans United joined forces with other progressive organizations to derail a pilot voucher plan adopted by the Colorado legislature. The Colorado Supreme Court struck down the scheme in 2004, holding that it violated a section of the state constitution that requires local school boards to maintain significant control over funding of district schools.
In 2006, AU and allies derailed a voucher scheme in Florida. Prodded by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida legislators passed a wide-ranging plan that they insisted was really a “scholarship” program. We went to court on behalf of taxpayers and parents, taking the case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. The state high court ruled 5-2 that the plan violated the Florida Constitution.
Fighting the ‘Faith-Based’ Initiative
As one of the first national groups to take alarm at the George W. Bush “faith-based” initiative, Americans United has led the opposition to any and all schemes that tax Americans to pay for religion. AU has mobilized clergy to speak out against the initiative, lined up citizens and taxpayers to speak out and coordinated a response in the media. Although Presidents Bush and Barack Obama have used executive orders to implement many faith-based programs, the plan has never passed Congress, and every bill that has included it has either been defeated or had the provision removed.
No Taxpayer Funding of Religious Indoctrination
Inmates at an Iowa correctional institution in Iowa contacted Americans United when they learned that prisoners taking part in a fundamentalist Christian program called InnerChange were receiving preferential treatment and being indoctrinated in a narrow brand of religion with state support and funding. When the state refused to end the program, AU sued and won an impressive victory from a federal appeals court in 2008. The program was subsequently shut down.
Exposing the Radical Religious Right
Americans United works hard to expose the radicalism of the Religious Right. AU staffers regularly attend Religious Right conferences and gather information about the tactics and goals of these organizations. Thanks to AU’s work, the agenda of these groups has been laid bare, and some information that they would have preferred to keep under wraps has come to light.
In 1998, for example, Americans United released a recording of a closed-door speech by TV preacher Pat Robertson at a Christian Coalition conclave. During the remarks, Robertson outlined a plan to model the organization after New York’s notorious Tammany Hall political machine and ensure that a conservative was elected president in 2000. AU shared this information with the media, which created a firestorm of controversy. A few years later, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that the Coalition was being used as partisan group and denied its application for tax-exempt status.
Opposing Partisan Politics in Churches
Weary of attempts by Religious Right groups to politicize houses of worship, Americans United in 1996 launched Project Fair Play, a national campaign to educate religious leaders and congregants about the requirements of federal tax law. Thousands of people have used Project Fair Play material to educate themselves and others. Polls show that opposition to church electioneering has reached a new high. One church that flagrantly violated the rules by running a newspaper ad attacking a candidate was reported to the IRS by AU and lost its tax-exempt status. Religious Right groups have also lobbied Congress to change the law to allow church electioneering. Americans United has led the fight to opposed efforts in Congress to rewrite this law, including offering congressional testimony. Thanks to AU’s leadership, the law remains intact.
Religion, Health Care and the Public Interest
Keeping Americans free from sectarian dogma in health care is an important goal of Americans United. In 2000, AU intervened in a case in Florida to prevent a public hospital from falling under restrictive Catholic guidelines that would have curtailed or ended certain medical services. A settlement was reached out of court, and the public hospital decided to remain public.
Ensuring Fair Treatment for Minority Faiths
Americans United represented a war widow whose husband, a Wiccan, was denied the right to have a Pentagram on his memorial marker. The symbols of a long list of other faiths were available, but the symbol of the Wiccan tradition was denied by authorities. After AU filed suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2006, the VA quickly moved to settle the case and approved the Wiccan emblem.
Religious Equality in the Military
Americans United worked to expose religious bias and a climate of favoritism toward evangelical Christians at the Air Force Academy. A May 2005 report that AU issued was cited by military officials in their official analysis of the matter. Many of the problems that existed have been corrected. Although some problems are ongoing, the issue is now firmly on the military’s radar screen.
Church, State and Marriage Equality
Religious Right organizations and their allies have pushed incessantly for a constitutional amendment to define marriage according to their own theological dictates. Americans United has strongly opposed these efforts and formed a group of clergy and secular allies to speak out for church-state separation. AU’s leadership on the issue helped stall the amendment in Congress in 2006. Although Religious Right groups still clamor for it, the amendment is not being seriously considered at this time.
No Sectarian Prayer at Governmental Meetings
Residents of Forsyth County (N.C.) were dismayed over the county’s practice of opening its sessions with prayers that were almost always Christian in content. Unable to persuade county officials to be more inclusive, they filed suit. Americans United offered advice and eventually assumed control of the lawsuit, winning a victory before a federal appeals court in 2011.
Removing A Commandments Monument in Alabama
Americans United leaped into action when Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, decided to display a 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building. Representing several Alabama citizens, AU and allies filed suit and won a strong opinion from two federal courts ordering Moore to remove the monument. Incredibly, Moore refused to comply with the 2003 court order and he was subsequently removed from the Alabama high court. The monument was also removed.
Stamping Out Sectarian License Plates
Residents of South Carolina came to Americans United after the state legislature mandated creation of a special “Christian” license plate. No other specialty plate had received this type of government backing, Americans United noted in court. AU won a sweeping victory in 2009 that was so strong, state officials decided not to appeal.