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Mr. Rob Boston 3 on the 1950s to the 1990s


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/01/13

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 earlier decades of development for Americans United.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Following the founding in 1947 and by mostly religious individuals, what were those major developments?

Rob Boston: When I dig into AU’s archival material, I’m always surprised at what a big issue access to birth control was in the 1950s. There weren’t many options back then because this was prior to the invention of the pill, but in many states, doctors were gagged from discussing the options that did exist — even with married couples. Just to be clear, some of these laws were so strict that they not only banned contraceptives devices, they also banned the discussion of such devices. These laws came about due to pressure from religious groups, and this didn’t change until the Supreme Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965.

Another issue that started to pick up steam in the late 1940s and into the ’50s was the role of religion in public education. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McCollum v. Board of Education that public schools could not partner with church groups to sponsor religion classes on-site at the schools. That ruling laid important groundwork for the school prayer and Bible reading decisions of 1962 and ’63.

Jacobsen: What were those major early partners as this middle period of the organization developed from the 1950s to the 1990s?

Rob Boston: In the early days of Americans United, our primary allies were Protestant groups, chiefly Baptist. Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Christian Science and Seventh Day Adventist bodies. I know this may seem strange today because some of these groups no longer support church-state separation, but the times were different then. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention was a strong supporter of church-state separation during this period. That didn’t change until fundamentalists took over the denomination in the late 1970s. And it’s important to remember that we still have support from many traditional Baptists who believe that backing separation of church and state and freedom of conscience is a vital and necessary part of their faith.

Jewish groups were very active in the early days of Americans United and still are, Likewise for education groups like the National Education Association.

One group that came along a little later was organized secularists and freethinkers. In the late 1940s, we just did not have prominent, powerful national organizations for non-believers. The culture at that time — especially during the 1950s — was pretty hostile to skeptics of religion. When freethought/atheist/humanist movements took off in the 1970s and into the ’80s, they adopted defense of church-state separation as part of their program. They became an important part of AU’s coalition and remain so today.

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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