Non-profit

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Logo of Americans United For Separation of Church and State, updated in 2014 (link)
Website:

www.au.org/

Location:

Washington, DC

Tax ID:

53-0184647

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2020):

Revenue: $6,638,151
Expenses: $8,157,392
Assets: $16,127,343

Formation:

1947

President:

Rachel Laser

Type:

Secular governing advocacy group

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) is a left-of-center nonprofit that advocates for the removal of religious influences from government policy. The group claims that it has always been led by and staffed by religious individuals. [1] As of August 2022, AUSCS has 19 chapters in 14 states. [2]

The group opposes school vouchers, religious exemptions for anti-discrimination laws, and any government funding to religious organizations, even for the purpose of non-religious activity. AUSCS considers many of its ideological opponents to be “Christian nationalists” intent on establishing strong state support for Christianity at the expense of other religions and non-believers.

Since 2018, AUSCS has been led by Rachel Laser, who formerly ran her own racial advocacy consulting firm and has written extensively on alleged systemic racism in America.

History

Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947 after the U.S. Supreme Court case Everson v. Board of Education permitted the spending of tax dollars on indirect support for religious institutions; in this case, public busing to a religious school. The organization initially started with a primarily Protestant membership but had expanded to other denominations by the 1970s. [3]

In 1971, AUSCS supported the plaintiffs in Lemon v. Kurtzman that struck down a law which provided government funding to religious private schools. [4]

In 1992, AUSCS reported a church in Conklin, New York to the IRS for allegedly violating its nonprofit status after the church took out newspaper advertisements advocating against then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton (D). The church eventually lost its nonprofit status. [5]

In 1996, AUSCS launched Project Fair Play, which monitored religious organizations for activity which violated their tax-exempt status. [6]

In 1998, AUSCS was a leader in the movement to defeat the Istook Amendment which would have permitted prayer in public schools. [7]

In 2005, AUSCS and other organizations successfully sued Dover School District to stop teaching courses on intelligent design, which the courts declared to be a form of creationism, and therefore a religious belief not permitted to be taught in public school. [8]

Opposition to “Christian Nationalists”

Americans United for Separation of Church and State often attributes political movements and beliefs it disagrees with to “Christian Nationalists,” including support for President Donald Trump, opposition to abortion, and opposition to gay marriage. [9] [10]

In July 2022, AUSCS reported the right-wing Family Research Council, which it considers to be “Christian Nationalist,” to the IRS for allegedly violating its nonprofit status by operating as a lobbying and advocacy group but while claiming church status under the tax code. [11]

Advocacy

Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposes government funding for religious nonprofits, even to support non-religious philanthropic activity. [12]

AUSCS opposes the use of religion as grounds for exemptions from anti-discrimination laws derived from the Civil Rights Act. [13] The organization supports the Equality Act, which proposes to expand existing anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ into housing, employment, and other domains. [14] AUSCS also supports the Do No Harm Act, which invalidates existing laws that it claims permit private discrimination on the basis of religion. [15]

AUSCS acknowledges that the U.S. Constitution permits religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of gender or sexuality in their hiring. However, the AUSCS opposes all discrimination by religious organizations in hiring for non-religious jobs, and claims that religious organizations often use their First Amendment exemption improperly. [16]

AUSCS opposes all private-school choice programs, both for religious and non-religious schools. The organization is a co-chair of the National Coalition for Public Education, a national anti-school-choice group. [17] [18]

The website of AUSCS says that the organization “generally” opposes religious exemptions for health mandates, such as vaccines. The website implies that the organization supports some exemptions on a case-by-case basis but does not identify them. [19]

AUSCS supports legalized abortion and denounces abortion-opposition as religiously motivated. [20] President Rachel Laser said the 2022 reversal of Roe v. Wade “is a direct attack on the separation of church and state.” [21] An AUSCS article said that after the decision, “religious extremists” and “Christian nationalists” would next attempt to stop employers from being forced to provide healthcare plans that include HIV-preventative medications and emergency contraceptives. [22]

AUSCS said the 2022 Kennedy v. Bremerton decision, which permitted a high school football coach to lead a prayer on the field after games, was the “greatest loss of religious freedom in generations.” [23]

Biden Administration

After the election of President Joe Biden, AUSCS released ten recommendations for the president, including disregarding religious advisors on COVID-19 policy, ending religious exemptions for employers to provide health care plans with birth control, ending all federal support for school voucher programs, and ending the ban on transgender individuals in the military. [24]

Trump Administration

The website of Americans United for Separation of Church and State claims that President Donald Trump (R) had an “alliance with White Christian Nationalists” that led him to favor policies that “weaponized religion,” including permitting companies to deny healthcare coverage plans that include birth control on religious grounds. [25]

In February 2017, AUSCS and the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in State of Washington v. Trump which challenged the legality of President Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from numerous majority-Muslim nations. [26]

On January 19, 2021, AUSCS and affiliated organizations sued numerous federal agency leaders appointed by President Trump for removing a rule that required religious nonprofit contractors for government services to inform recipients that they cannot be discriminated against, do not have to attend religious services, and can be referred to an alternative provider. [27]

Leadership

Rachel Laser

Rachel Laser became the CEO and president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State in 2018 after the retirement of Barry W. Lynn, who had led the group since 1992. [28] Laser, a Reform Jew, is the first non-Christian and first woman to lead the organization. [29] Laser previously worked as a senior counsel to the National Women’s Law Center, as director of the culture program at Third Way, a left-of-center policy think tank, and as deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. [30] She is also a former national board member of NARAL Pro-Choice America [31] and has worked as an attorney for Planned Parenthood. [32]

From 2016 through 2018 Laser ran Rachel Laser LLC, a “consultant on bridging cultural and racial divides” that catered to schools, universities, companies, law firms, government agencies, and religious communities. Her services included an “Implicit Bias Workshop” and a “Let’s Talk About Race Workshop.” Laser gave speeches, wrote think pieces, established a “Diversity Task Force” at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C., and hosted a workshop for the NARAL Pro-Choice America national board. [33] [34] [35]

Laser has written and spoken extensively about race in America. In 2015, Laser gave a speech entitled “Uncovering my White Privilege on Yom Kippur” in which she explored her own white privilege, which she acknowledged as “every single thing in my life is easier” and that it makes her feel “guilty.” Laser recounted first acknowledging her white privilege during her freshman year in college when she felt “uncomfortable” sitting at a table with only black students and later having her black friend join a table with all white students, eventually leading to the end of the friendship. Laser stated that she was using the holiday to “do some of my own reflective and repentant work about white privilege.” [36]

The following year, Laser gave another Yom Kippur speech, “Why I Am Atoning for Racism,” in which she said, “I benefit from racism and I perpetuate it” even though she doesn’t “intentionally or consciously participate in racism.” [37]

Cynthia Hess

AUSCS chief operating officer Cynthia Hess formerly worked at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research for over 14 years, including over two years as its chief operating officer. [38]

Kate Duis

AUSCS senior director of development Kate Duis previously led the individual giving program at PAI, an international abortion advocacy group. [39]

References

  1. “About United Americans.” AmericansUnited.org. Accessed 26 August 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/. ^
  2. “Get Involved Locally.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/get-involved/chapters/. ^
  3. “Our History.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/history/. ^
  4. “Our History.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/history/. ^
  5. Niebuhr, Gustav. “Court Upholds I.R.S. Penalty for Church Ad in ’92 Election.” New York Times. April 1, 1999. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/01/us/court-upholds-irs-penalty-for-church-ad-in-92-election.html. ^
  6. “Our History.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/history/. ^
  7. “Our History.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/history/. ^
  8. “Our History.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/history/. ^
  9. Boston, Rob. “A Christian Nationalist Political Group Claims It’s A Church. Why Is The IRS Allowing This?” AUSCS. July 20, 2022. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/the-latest/articles/frc-now-church/. ^
  10. “Frequently asked questions.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/faqs/. ^
  11. Boston, Rob. “A Christian Nationalist Political Group Claims It’s A Church. Why Is The IRS Allowing This?” AUSCS. July 20, 2022. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/the-latest/articles/frc-now-church/. ^
  12. “Frequently asked questions.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/faqs/. ^
  13. “Fighting the Use of Religion to Discriminate.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/how-we-protect-religious-freedom/policy/. ^
  14. “Tell your U.S. Senators: pass the Equality Act for LGBTQ+ rights & religious freedoms.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/get-involved/actions/tell-your-u-s-senators-pass-the-equality-act-for-lgbtq-rights-religious-freedom/. ^
  15. “Support the Do No Harm Act to stop allowing religion as an excuse to harm others.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.booker.senate.gov/news/press/booker-reintroduces-legislation-prohibiting-discrimination-in-the-name-of-religion. ^
  16. “Frequently asked questions.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/faqs/. ^
  17. “Frequently asked questions.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/faqs/. ^
  18. “Our Policy Team Defends Religious Freedom.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/how-we-protect-religious-freedom/policy/. ^
  19. “Frequently asked questions.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/faqs/. ^
  20. “Protecting reproductive freedom by ensuring religion isn’t used to deny anyone health care.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/how-we-protect-religious-freedom/issues/reproductive-rights/. ^
  21. [1] Crary, David. “Faith leaders react with joy, anger to Roe’s reversal.” PBS. June 24, 2022. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/faith-leaders-react-with-joy-anger-to-roes-reversal. ^
  22. Tolentino, Kristin. “Overturning Roe Is Just A Start. Here’s What Christian Nationalists Have Planned For American Next.” AUSCS. July 21, 2022. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/the-latest/articles/post-roe-attacks/. ^
  23.  “Americans United: Supreme Court Ruling Is Greatest Loss Of Religious Freedom in Generations.” AUSCS. June 27, 2022. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/the-latest/press/supreme-court-kennedy-bremerton-decision/. ^
  24. Boston, Rob. “The Church-State Wall Is Battered After Four Years of Trump. Let the Repair Work Begin.” The Humanist. January 19, 2021. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://thehumanist.com/magazine//church-state/church-state-the-church-state-wall-is-battered-after-four-years-of-trump-let-the-repair-work-begin/. ^
  25.  “Frequently asked questions.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/faqs/. ^
  26.  “No. 17-35105.” ACLU. February 6, 2017. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/americans_united_for_separation_of_church_and_state_splc_amicus_brief.pdf. ^
  27. “Americans United And Allies Sue Trump Admin. For Scrapping Requirements That Protected Religious Freedom and Access To Social Services.” AUSCS. January 19, 2022. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/the-latest/press/Lawsuit-Trump-Social-Services/. ^
  28.  “Our History.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/history/. ^
  29. Boorstein, Michelle. “For the first time, a woman and non-Christian will lead this group that thinks government is too involved in religion.” Washinton Post. February 21, 2018. Accessed August 11, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/02/21/for-the-first-time-a-woman-and-non-christian-will-lead-this-group-that-thinks-government-is-too-involved-in-religion/. ^
  30. “Rachel Laser.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachellaser/. ^
  31. “Rachel Laser.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/people/rachel-laser/. ^
  32. Blair, Leonardo. “Rachel Laser, Frm. Planned Parenthood Lawyer, to Lead Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.” Christian Post. Accessed August 11, 2022. https://www.christianpost.com/news/rachel-laser-planned-parenthood-lawyer-lead-americans-united-for-separation-of-church-state.html. ^
  33. “Rachel Laser.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachellaser/. ^
  34. “Services.” Rachel Laser. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.rachellaser.com/services. ^
  35. “Rachel Laser: Workshops.” Rachel Laser. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.rachellaser.com/_files/ugd/3fcdcb_14a93b0c90584c32a4db0894f08852ee.pdf. ^
  36. Laser, Rachel. “Uncovering my White Privilege on Yom Kippur.” Medium. September 24, 2015. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://medium.com/@rachelklaser/uncovering-my-white-privilege-on-yom-kippur-183887491436#.uzhpaoatn. ^
  37. Laser, Rachel. “Why I Am Atoning for Racism in America.” Medium. October 13, 2016. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://medium.com/@rachelklaser/why-i-am-atoning-for-racism-long-version-3b1fc8e55bc0#.m1y0nmu0w. ^
  38.  “Cynthia Hess.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.linkedin.com/in/cynthia-hess-77140311/. ^
  39.  “Kate Duis.” AUSCS. Accessed August 9, 2022. https://www.au.org/about-au/people/kate-duis/. ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: September - August
  • Tax Exemption Received: July 1, 2000

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2020 Sep Form 990 $6,638,151 $8,157,392 $16,127,343 $7,757,588 N $7,330,873 $411,204 $391,923 $799,577
    2019 Sep Form 990 $9,107,350 $7,758,976 $17,775,012 $7,436,599 N $8,186,706 $303,230 $513,632 $747,563 PDF
    2018 Sep Form 990 $7,845,869 $7,156,402 $17,100,571 $8,036,496 N $7,191,739 $1,750 $507,584 $715,252 PDF
    2017 Sep Form 990 $6,726,645 $7,210,878 $17,396,865 $8,672,248 N $6,091,725 $58,013 $526,204 $711,786 PDF
    2016 Sep Form 990 $6,198,592 $6,429,162 $11,141,577 $2,733,743 N $6,020,099 $81,000 $492,603 $487,984
    2015 Sep Form 990 $7,142,780 $6,223,371 $10,976,955 $2,718,076 N $5,545,086 $1,304,563 $501,501 $672,403 PDF
    2014 Sep Form 990 $7,496,695 $5,779,633 $11,174,833 $2,652,187 N $5,897,823 $5,732 $474,326 $631,946 PDF
    2013 Sep Form 990 $5,380,283 $5,531,254 $9,927,448 $2,767,572 N $4,367,750 $15,798 $382,863 $628,313 PDF
    2012 Sep Form 990 $5,844,059 $5,752,364 $9,513,862 $2,593,509 N $4,589,192 $942,491 $367,873 $575,843 PDF
    2011 Sep Form 990 $8,097,965 $5,484,852 $8,560,707 $2,436,224 N $3,904,955 $256,458 $150,460 $571,745 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    1310 L STREET NW SUITE 200
    Washington, DC 20005-4383