Barry W. Lynn was named executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Sept. 22, 1992, and since that time has spearheaded AU’s organizational growth. During his 25 years with Americans United, Barry:
Instituted policies and programs that helped Americans United’s budget grow from $1.8 million to $7 million.
Built a formidable legal program with a national presence. Under Lynn’s direction, Americans United’s legal staff grew from one —a legal director— to nine attorneys, including legal fellows and a full-time attorney dedicated to resolving church-state problems out of court.
Expanded Americans United’s legislative staff from one lobbyist to a staff of five. Aside from AU’s work on Capitol Hill, one staff member now works full time on state legislative issues.
Doubled Americans United’s Field Department. Staff members were added to focus on building chapters, engaging faith leaders, and youth outreach.
Grew Americans United’s Communications Department from three staff members to five. Church & State went from a two-color magazine to four colors. A professional website and social media presence were created from scratch.
Created a professional fundraising department that now consists of four staff members. Foundation funding, planned giving and other new sources of revenue were instituted.
Relocated Americans United’s national office from a Maryland suburb to the heart of Washington, D.C.
Under Barry’s direction, AU saw many impressive victories. There are too many to list in full, but some are given here. During Barry’s leadership, Americans United:
Reported a church in New York that broke federal law in 1992 by placing a full-page ad in USA Today telling people that voting for Bill Clinton was a sin. AU told the IRS to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status, and the tax agency did so.
Launched a special nationwide initiative, Project Fair Play, in 1996 to educate clergy and laypeople about the federal law that bars tax-exempt groups from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. As part of the project, AU reports egregious violations of the law to the IRS.
Challenged TV preacher Pat Roberson’s Religious Right group, the Christian Coalition. As the organization grew powerful in the wake of the 1992 elections, Americans United contested the group’s claims and exposed its extreme rhetoric. The organization said it had two million members, but AU learned that the actual figure was much less – under 300,000. AU also argued that the Coalition’s activities were so partisan that it should not receive tax-exempt status, and the IRS eventually denied the group this status. (By 2000, the Coalition was all but dead.)
Exposed a 1997 closed-door meeting of Robertson’s Coalition during which the TV preacher outlined his plan to create a political machine and take over the Republican Party in time for the 2000 elections. AU obtained a recording of the remarks, which were not intended for public consumption, and released it to the media.
Defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have removed church-state separation from the Constitution and allowed government to promote religion in various ways. Republicans in the House of Representatives pushed the so-called “religious freedom amendment” after taking control of the chamber in 1994, but Americans United rallied opposition, and the measure was defeated in 1998.
Ended a state prison program in Iowa sponsored by Prison Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group, called InnerChange. Inmates who agreed to adopt InnerChange’s version of Christianity received special privileges not available to others. AU sued, and the program was discontinued in 2007.
Stopped Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore from displaying a two-ton Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building in Montgomery, insisting the Decalogue was the source of U.S. law. AU sued in 2001 and won. Moore defied a federal court order to remove the monument and was ordered off the court.
Reframed the debate over President George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative in 2001, highlighting the issue of taxpayer-funded employment discrimination in these programs. AU created the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, to rally opponents of discrimination in faith-based programs.
Sponsored important litigation that was a strong legal blow against the teaching of creationism in public schools. AU and allies in 2005 brought litigation against a school district in Dover, Pa., that sought to teach “intelligent design” in science classes. A federal court ordered the instruction stopped.
Opposed ballot referenda to establish private school voucher plans in New York, Michigan, California, Massachusetts, Utah, Oregon, Washington and other states throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. In each case, the proposals were defeated at the ballot box, often by wide margins. The group also fought vouchers successfully in court in several states. Through the National Coalition for Public Education, a group Americans United chairs, AU brings together opponents of vouchers from the education, religious and public policy communities.
Created an entertaining mix of songs, comedy and interviews in 2008 called “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Separation of Church and State…But Were Afraid to Ask,” that featured celebrities like Kevin Bacon and Jack Klugman to boost support for church-state separation.
Designed an innovative program called Voices United that featured more than 125 concerts where singers and comedians, from Tom Paxton and Dar Williams to Sarah Silverman and Lizz Winstead, worked with AU to promote separation of church and state.
Stood up for public school students' rights in New Jersey, after a public school football coach insisted that he had the right to pray with players. AU stepped in to represent the school district in 2007 and won a court ruling putting a stop to the coercive religious practice.
Initiated the case of Greece v. Galloway, dealing with legislative prayer, that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Although a close loss, the 2014 decision did result in some guidelines that make it clear that government must treat religious groups equally in the public arena. After the ruling, AU launched Operation Inclusion, a special program to ensure equal treatment.
Protected women’s rights to reproductive choice and birth control by filing the first lawsuit representing women who stood to lose access to contraceptives due to dogmatic policies held by their employers that wanted to ignore provisions in the Affordable Care Act designed to ensure women’s health.
Went to court in Alabama in 2015 to defend marriage equality, winning an important legal victory that made it clear that the state could not, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, enforce a law banning marriage between same-sex couples.
Issued an annual report on the extremism of the Values Voter Summit, a Religious Right gathering in Washington, D.C., for 10 years running.
Took the lead in opposing the use of “religious freedom” arguments to harm others or deny them their rights through the 2015 launch of a national project called Protect Thy Neighbor.
Fought President Donald Trump’s discriminatory “Muslim ban” in court, helping to shape the legal argument that brought the ban down. To date, AU attorneys have filed briefs in four cases challenging the ban.