Welcome to the San Antonio Chapter of
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Americans United was founded in 1947 by religious, political, and educational leaders to defend the most precious of our nation’s freedoms—the freedom of conscience.
At the time of AU’s founding, the greatest threat to religious liberty was the drive to obtain public tax dollars for private religious institutions. As a result of the “parochiaid” controversies, AU’s membership grew rapidly until there were AU members throughout the United States. Although opposition to any form of parochial school aid has remained an important part of AU’s mission, the organization has expanded its work to include opposition to government-mandated religious exercises and prayer in the public schools, ‘faith-based’ initiatives, and advocating for the inherent right of all Americans to practice their religion or no religion at all freely without government interference.
In the early years the membership of Americans United was primarily Protestant. Today, its membership has grown to include diverse people of faith, and people of no particular religious viewpoint, who believe church-state separation is crucial to the preservation of freedom of conscience. Americans United has no formal ties to any religious denomination, but works closely with religious groups (denominations, congregations, faith-based organizations, and clergy) that share its commitment to church-state separation. It is a fact in American life that the majority of people of faith support separation of church and state. As the Religious Right gained financial and political power throughout the 1980’s, Americans United increasingly responded to its efforts to tear down the wall of separation. Stepping up its educational, legal, grassroots, and legislative efforts, AU works to counter the virulent anti-separationist propaganda of the Religious Right. Americans from all walks of life and various religious, political, and philosophical persuasions have gathered under the organization’s banner to stand against religious intolerance and defend the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
I invite you to become a member of our Chapter. By doing so you will join with thousands of people throughout this country who view freedom of conscience as the founding principle upon which our democracy rests! Your voice is multiplied as Americans United works on the critically important issue of church-state separation.
Join us. Become a member.
--Eric Lane, President, San Antonio Chapter
The 'Wall of Separation'
On October 7, 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut sent a letter to the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, expressing concern over the lack in their state constitution of explicit protection of religious liberty, and against a government establishment of religion. At the time, they were being persecuted because they did not belong to the Congregationalist establishment in Connecticut.
In their letter to the President, the Danbury Baptists affirmed that "Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty — That Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals — That no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious Opinions — That the legitimate Power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor...".
As a religious minority in Connecticut, the Danbury Baptists were concerned that a religious majority might "reproach their chief Magistrate... because he will not, dare not assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ," thus establishing a state religion at the cost of the liberties of religious minorities.
Some individuals and groups assert that the Baptists wrote to Jefferson because they wanted him to issue a proclamation calling for a day of fasting and prayer or because they were alarmed over a rumor they had heard that a national church was about to be established. These assertions are not accurate. The Baptists wrote to Jefferson to commend him for his stand in favor of religious liberty and to express their dissatisfaction with the church-state relationship in Connecticut. Jefferson himself did not view his response as a minor, unimportant letter; he had it reviewed by Levi Lincoln, his attorney general, before he sent it. Jefferson told Lincoln that he considered this letter to be a means of "sowing useful truths and principles among the people, which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets."
Jefferson's response, dated January 1, 1802, concurs with the Danbury Baptists' views on religious liberty, and the accompanying separation of civil government from concerns of religious doctrine and practice. Jefferson writes: "...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State".
U. S. Supreme Court decisions through the past two centuries repeatedly refer to Jefferson's writings as instructive in how to interpret all facets of the Constitution, not merely with regards to First Amendment issues — but those issues do receive particular attention. In the 1879 decision Reynolds v. U.S., for example, the court observed that Jefferson's writings "may be accepted as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment."
The Supreme Court has often cited Jefferson’s Danbury letter in discussions of the original intent of the First Amendment. One of the most important cases was the landmark decision of Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing et al., 330 U.S. 1  in which the court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment required that the First Amendment’s separation of church and state also applies to the states. This was the first Supreme Court case incorporating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as binding upon the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision in Everson marked a turning point in the interpretation and application of disestablishment law in the modern era. Although several justices dissented from the majority opinion in Everson, their argument was with whether the practice at issue in the case had in fact breached the “wall of separation.” Both affirming and dissenting Justices were decisive that the Constitution required a sharp separation between government and religion, and their strongly worded opinions paved the way to a series of later court decisions that taken together brought about profound changes in legislation, public education, and other policies involving matters of religion. Both Justice Hugo Black's majority opinion and Justice Wiley Rutledge's dissenting opinion defined the First Amendment religious clause in terms of a "wall of separation between church and state". That the full court assumed that the First Amendment intended to separate church and state is evident from Justice Rutledge’s dissenting opinion which was endorsed by all the dissenting justices:
“The Amendment’s purpose was not to strike merely at the official establishment of a single sect, creed or religion, outlawing only a formal relation such as had prevailed in England and some of the colonies. Necessarily it was to uproot all such relationships. . . . But the object was broader than separating church and state in this narrow sense. It was to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion.”