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Mr. Rob Boston 1 on American-isms Around Secularism


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/01/02

Rob Boston is the Senior Advisor and Editor for Church and State of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is the monthly membership magazine. He began work at Americans United in 1987 and authored four books entitled Close Encounters with the Religious Right: Journeys into the Twilight Zone of Religion and Politics (Prometheus Books, 2000), The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition (Prometheus Books, 1996), Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church and State (Prometheus Books, 1993; second edition, 2003), and Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do (Prometheus Books, 2014). Mr. Boston can be contacted here:

This series covers secularism strictly within the American context for the consumption of 18-to-35-year-olds. In this interview session, we cover the general history of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and its relationship with the secular battles over the course of American history.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You’ve been involved in some of the important issues and an important organization for the fundamental issue, a defining one, of American history. That is, the idea of Secularism in history and communities of seculars around it. What is the story of Americans United for Separation of Church and State?

Rob Boston: Americans United was founded in 1947 largely by a group of religious leaders who were concerned that support for the principle of separation of church and state was eroding. At the time, there were several proposals in Congress and in state legislatures that would have diverted taxpayer funds to private religious schools. The founders of Americans United believed strongly that religion must always be supported with voluntary funds so they formed a national group to advocate for that point of view.

Over time, other issues were added to AU’s plate — for example, questions concerning the proper role of religion in public education, the display of religious symbols by government, the interaction of houses of worship in politics, censorship based on religious views, access to birth control, LGBTQ rights and so on. The organization’s formal ties to religious bodies also faded, and by the early 1970s AU was a non-sectarian group consisting of religious and non-religious members.

Jacobsen: How does this, only in general terms, match and build on the work of dead America secular exemplars? Those who fought for the rights to equality with the dominant religions of the time, and today.

Rob Boston: I believe we are continuing the great work started during the colonial and founding periods by some bold thinkers. For example, Roger Williams was a Puritan minister in Boston but also a powerful advocate for religious freedom. His stand on these issues made him unpopular and he had to flee. He founded the city of Providence, where all were free to worship, or not, as guided by conscience. Years later, clerics like John Leland joined forces with Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to insist that only separation of church and state would truly protect freedom of conscience. We tend to take religious freedom for granted today, but we have it only because these leaders demanded it and fought for it. Americans United works to preserve their legacy by ensuring that every American — be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan, Atheist, Humanist and so on — be treated equally by the government and that the state refrains from basing the laws that we all must follow on the theology of some.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mr. Boston.

Boston: Thank you!


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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