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Mr. Rob Boston 4 on the 2000s to 2020 for Americans United


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/01/22

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 recent, modern history of Americans United.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Following the 1950s through 1990s, and the support structure of religious individuals and religious institutions, when did the work transition more into secular American citizens taking the charge in maintaining the ever-important separation of church and state?

Rob Boston: It’s hard to say exactly when this happened, but there were some significant events along the way that provide some evidence. For example, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state-sponsored prayer in public schools in landmark rulings from 1962 and 1963, some religious groups endorsed that decision and others opposed it. Some of the groups that were in opposition went so far as to call a constitutional amendment to “restore” prayer to public schools. This created a rift in the religious community that exists until this day.

Another factor was the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention by fundamentalists in the late 1970s. As they consolidated power, the fundamentalists shifted the SBC away from its traditional positions in favor of church-state separation. This loss of a key religious ally created a vacuum that some secularists began to fill.

A final development was the rise of organized secularism in the 1980s. Support for church-state separation was always a part of the agenda of humanist/atheist/freethought groups. As they became more visible, more active and better funded, they naturally gravitated toward the cause.

Having said that, I think it is important to note that religious voices are still very much a key part of our movement. We couldn’t do this work without support from faith communities. They have been amazing allies. In my view, one of the best things about Americans United is the way we bring religious and secular people together to work on this common issue of protecting freedom of conscience. It’s a phenomenal partnership — and a necessary one.

Jacobsen: Based on the last question, what were some recent markers in the 2000s and 2010s representing this transition and the activism for separation of church and state in different domains by those without religion, and in leadership positions?

Boston: One thing I noticed in the 2000s was the rise of alliances in secular communities that had not existed before. Herb Silverman formed the Secular Coalition for America, which brings together several secularist bodies to work together on shared interests, including church-state separation. Basically, organizations ceased looking at one another as rivals and started to be allies. That alliance undoubtedly amplified secularist voices.

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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