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Mr. Rob Boston 2 on 1947


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/01/03

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 founding year of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What were the sociopolitical contexts of the 1940s, and 1947 in particular, necessitating the development of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in more detail?

Rob Boston: In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an important church-state ruling in a case called Everson v. Board of Education. It was a curious decision. The Supreme Court unanimously endorsed the concept of separation of church and state but also ruled that it was permissible to use public funds to pay for transporting students to private religious schools. Many people were alarmed at this decision, believing it had opened the door to government support for religion. Indeed, after the decision came down, the leaders of some religious groups, primarily the Catholic Church, began lobbying for more access to public money for their private school system. The decision was made to form a national organization to advocate for church-state separation to prevent further encroachments.

There were other issues gaining attention during that period. Religiously based censorship of films, books, magazines and stage plays was still common in some parts of the country, and people were chaffing against it. Also, while there were not many artificial birth control options at the time (the pill had not yet been invented), the few that did exist were banned in some regions, and doctors were gagged from discussing them, again due to religious pressure. People were increasingly speaking out against that.

In short, I think a number of social and legal issues came to a head in the late 1940s that made the time right for a group like Americans United.

Jacobsen: Why were the religious leaders the central players here? This may seem unusual at first glance.

Rob Boston: There are a couple of reasons for that. First, American society was much more religious in the late 1940s and 1950s than it is now. I’m sure atheists existed then, but they tended to keep a low profile. It could be dangerous to be too public about non-belief, especially in the 1950s when atheism was linked to communism in the public mind. Given the cultural ethos of the times, it just made sense for religious leaders to take the lead on church-state separation.

Secondly, the religious community felt that it had a lot to lose if church and state got too close. The idea that an alliance of church and state will corrupt and harm the church more than the state is an old one. Some of the framers talked about it, as did religious leaders during the founding period. It was natural for religious leaders to play a key role in defending church-state separation.

Finally, religious leaders during this period enjoyed a lot of goodwill. People generally thought well of members of the clergy, and they carried a lot of social capital. It made sense for them to lead the fight for church-state separation.

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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