A guide to church-state experts and organizations

Church-state issues are among the most contentious and emotional issues in American life. Dozens of these issues test the bounds of the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise clauses: school vouchers; government funding of faith-based social services; the role of faith in the public lives of judges, elected officials, legislators, pharmacists, doctors and lawyers; and the role of religion in public life, from Ten Commandments postings and the Pledge of Allegiance to religious groups’ role in politics and prayers at public meetings. ReligionLink offers a diverse and extensive guide to individuals and organizations expert in these issues.

Organizations and experts involved with church-state issues generally define themselves as separationist (supporting a strong separation of church and state) or accommodationist (believing that the government should accommodate religion to some extent). Each category includes a range of opinions. ReligionLink asked the organizations to define their own stances or used wording from the groups’ web sites.

Websites of organizations often include helpful resource pages on specific issues, contact information for chapters around the country and links to like-minded organizations.

Background

General

  • “Church-State Law”

    The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life maintains a collection of resources on religion & the law.

  • “Combating Religious Discrimination and Protecting Religious Freedom”

    The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division maintains a site on religious discrimination issues, which includes information on religious liberty.

  • “The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State”

    The website “The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State” is dedicated to combating “history by sound bite.” It provides audio links to Supreme Court oral arguments and speeches by civil rights/constitutional lawyer and others. It was created and is maintained by Jim Allison, a paralegal and historical-legal researcher and writer, and Susan Batte, a lawyer and a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar who practices in Virginia. Both have been involved in the debate on separation of church and state, researching and writing extensively on the subject.

  • Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

    The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut is one of the world’s leading archives of social science data, specializing in data from surveys of public opinion.

  • Religion News Service

    Daily news about religion, spirituality and ideas. RNS is owned by the non-profit Religion News LLC based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

  • MisLinks

    MisLinks is a web-based directory that offers links to online resources for missionaries, pastors, teachers, faith leaders, students and agencies. It is maintained by Scott Moreau of Wheaton College and Mike O’Rear of Global Mapping International (GMI).

Legal

  • Religious Freedom Restoration Act

    Read the text of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993) as posted on the Rainbow Family of Living Light’s website.

  • First Amendment Center

    The website maintained by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., is a lengthy and comprehensive source on First Amendment issues, cases and history.

Religion in public schools

Organizations

University-based research centers

  • Center for Church-State Studies

    The Center for Church-State Studies at DePaul University School of Law is a nondenominational entity that promotes debate and discussion about the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause. It is in Chicago.

    Contact: 312-362-8368.
  • Center for the Study of Law and Religion

    The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta focuses on religion and the law worldwide. It is headed by John Witte Jr., a professor of law and ethics and an expert on religious liberty. Contact Witte.

  • International Center for Law and Religion Studies

    The International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, promotes religious liberty and studies the relationships between governments and religious institutions. W. Cole Durham Jr. is a law professor and the center’s director.

    Contact: 801-422-6842.
  • J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies

    The J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, is devoted to research in the broad area of religion, politics and society and committed to the separation of church and state and the advancement of religious liberty around the world.

  • Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture

    The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis explores the connection between religion and other aspects of American culture.

Advocacy organizations

Accommodationist

  • Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty

    The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty promotes a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. The institute is ecumenical and defines itself as conservative. It is based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president. Contact John Couretas, director of communications.

     

     

  • Alliance for the Separation of School and State

    The Alliance for the Separation of School and State is a nonprofit working to remove government involvement in public school education. It is based in Clovis, Calif. Alan Schaeffer is its president.

  • Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

    The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is a Catholic civil rights advocacy group that responds to religious discrimination issues concerning Catholics and other Americans. It is based in New York but has chapters throughout the United States. Bill Donohue is its president.

  • Faith and Action

    Faith and Action is a nonprofit that advocates for Christian values in Washington, D.C., by meeting with policy-makers and politicians. One of its major projects is presenting politicians with Ten Commandments plaques and displays. Its founders are Paul and Rob Schenck. Schenck is also its president. Contact Peggy.

    Contact: 202-236-0953.
  • Heritage Foundation

    The Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit think tank devoted to conservative public policies. Stuart Butler is director of the Center for Policy Innovation.

    Contact: 202-675-1761.
  • Ethics and Public Policy Center

    The Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., works to “clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues.” Brian Walsh is executive director.

Separationist

Legal organizations

Law firm that litigates church-state cases

  • Rothgerber Johnson and Lyons

    Rothgerber Johnson and Lyons is a for-profit law firm whose specialties include religious issues, including religious liberty and church-state issues. It has offices in Denver and Colorado Springs in Colorado and in Casper, Wyo. Its website includes a religious liberty archive with court cases and many relevant documents. Contact Patrice Hettinger.

Accommodationist

  • Alliance Defending Freedom

    The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom is a watchdog group that was founded by Bill Bright, the evangelical minister who started Campus Crusade for Christ, and several other evangelical leaders. It concerns itself with three main issues: religious liberty, “sanctity of life” and traditional marriage. It is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Michael P. Farris is president. Use the website for media.

    Contact: 480-444-0020.
  • American Center for Law and Justice

    The American Center for Law and Justice supported the “Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act of 2005.” Contact Gene Kapp, media director.

  • Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

    The Becket Fund is a public-interest law firm in Washington, D.C., that works to protect the free expression of all religious traditions. Stephanie Keenan handles media inquiries.

  • Christian Legal Society

    The Christian Legal Society works to promote justice, religious liberty and biblical conflict resolution, and some chapters furnish legal services to the poor. Members sign a statement of faith, agreeing to what the group calls a biblical standard of moral conduct, including proscribing adultery and homosexual conduct.

  • Christian Law Association

    The Christian Law Association defines itself as a “ministry of legal helps” to “Bible-believing churches” and Christians who are experiencing legal difficulty in practicing their religious faith because of governmental regulation, intrusion or prohibition. It is based in Seminole, Fla., and headed by David Gibbs Jr.

    Contact: 1-888-252-1969.
  • Liberty Counsel

    The Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit litigation and educational organization based in Orlando. It is dedicated to advancing religious liberty, “the sanctity of human life and the traditional family.” Mathew Staver is its founder and chairman.

    Contact: 800-671-1776.
  • Pacific Justice Institute

    The Pacific Justice Institute is a nonprofit legal defense organization that specializes in religious and civil liberties cases. Its president is Brad Dacus. The institute is based in Sacramento, Calif.

    Contact: 916-857-6900.
  • Rutherford Institute

    The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization based in Charlottesville, Va. It represents clients in religious liberty issues. Contact media liaison Nisha N. Whitehead.

  • Southeastern Legal Foundation

    The Southeastern Legal Foundation is a legal advocacy group based in Marietta, Ga., and Washington, D.C. Its lawyers have argued in support of prayer in public places and for the public display of the Ten Commandments. Contact Todd Young.

  • Thomas More Law Center

    The Thomas More Law Center is a law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians. Contact president and chief counsel Richard Thompson in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Separationist

Denominational organizations

Baptist

  • Russell D. Moore

    Russell D. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Contact through Carrie Kintz.

  • Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

    The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is an umbrella organization of 15 Baptist bodies that work to promote religious liberty. They advise member denominations on religious liberties issues. It is based in Washington, D.C. Its executive director is Amanda Tyler, with J. Brent Walker serving as a consultant to the organization.

Interfaith

  • National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

    The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA is an umbrella organization of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and Living Peace denominations. The NCCC frequently files amicus briefs in religious and civil liberties cases. Philip E. Jenks is press contact.

  • Interfaith Campus Coalition

    The Interfaith Campus Coalition at the University of Minnesota includes clergy and students and encourages dialogue and respect among religious traditions. It posts a page on resisting pressure from religious groups, along with links to participating campus ministries and their contact information

  • Interfaithcalendar.org

    Interfaithcalendar.org is an online organization dedicated to providing resources on multiple religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. 

Jewish

Muslim

  • Council on American-Islamic Relations

    The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it is the largest advocacy group for Muslims in the U.S. It advocates for Muslims on issues related to civil liberties and justice. Contact communications director Ibrahim Hooper in Washington, D.C.

  • Muslim Public Affairs Council

    The Muslim Public Affairs Council works for Muslim participation in civic life. It is a leading Islamic advocacy group with offices in New York and Los Angeles, committed to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of American Muslims. It works to cultivate leadership in young Muslims and encourage a sense of ownership over their religious and national identity as Americans. The group’s $1.1 million budget includes no overseas funding. It has offices in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and several state chapters. The council is considered moderate and politically savvy and is led by first- and second-generation Americans. Contact Salam Al-Marayati, executive director.

Sikh

  • Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

    The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF – formerly Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force, or SMART) is the oldest Sikh American civil rights, advocacy and educational organization. SALDEF works to empower Sikh Americans through advocacy, education and media relations.

Seventh-Day Adventist

  • Seventh-day Adventist Church

    The Seventh-day Adventist Church has an official website with resources on beliefs and practices, missions and statements on the livelihood of practitioners and members. The website has a page with links to the church’s official statements on birth control, human rights, climate change and more than 100 other aspects of debate and culture.

    Contact: 301-680-6000.

Amish

Atheist

  • American Atheists

    Since 1963, American Atheists has been the premier organization laboring for the civil liberties of atheists and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. It is based in New Jersey and has chapters and affiliated organizations around the country.

Pagan

  • Lady Liberty League

    The Lady Liberty League is a nonprofit group that advocates for religious freedom and freedom from religious discrimination for pagans. Its founder and co-executive director is Selena Fox, and it is located in Barneveld, Wis.

Individuals

National sources

  • Michael Cromartie

    Michael Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he heads its Evangelicals in Civic Life program. He is also an expert on religious liberty and Christianity and politics. His books include, as editor, Religion and Politics in America: A Conversation.

  • Edd Doerr

    Edd Doerr is president of Americans for Religious Liberty, a separationist organization based in Silver Spring, Md.

  • Richard Foltin

    Richard Foltin is director of national and legislative affairs for the American Jewish Committee’s Office of Government and International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

  • Steven Green

    Steven Green is associate professor of law at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., and former general counsel to Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He has litigated cases involving school prayer, religious school funding, religious displays and religious discrimination.

  • Philip Hamburger

    Philip Hamburger is the Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School in New York.  He wrote the book Separation of Church and State (2002).

  • Charles Haynes

    Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum and a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. He writes and speaks extensively on religious liberty and religion in American public life.


  • CeCe Heil

    CeCe Heil is senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. Contact Gene Kapp.

  • Ted G. Jelen

    Ted G. Jelen is a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has followed religion and politics, including the participation of the Catholic Church and the role abortion politics plays. He co-edited the books Abortion Politics in the United States: Studies in Public Opinion and The One, the Few and the Many: Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective. He also co-wrote the book Between Two Absolutes: Public Opinion and the Politics of Abortion.

  • Ronald A. Lindsay

    Ronald A. Lindsay is president and CEO of the Council for Secular Humanism, based in Amherst, N.Y.

  • Joseph Loconte

    Joseph Loconte is an associate professor of history at The King’s College in New York City. He is the author of a 2001 book about the Bush initiative, God, Government and the Good Samaritan: The Promise and the Peril of the President’s Faith-Based Agenda.

  • Michael Schutt

    Michael Schutt is director of the Institute for Christian Legal Studies at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. The center is a project of the university and the Christian Legal Society. Its mission is, in part, “to train and encourage Christian law students, law professors and practicing lawyers to seek and study biblical truth, including the natural law tradition, as it relates to law and legal institutions.”

  • Jay Sekulow

    Jay Sekulow is chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., a leading pro-life religious legal advocacy group that frequently litigates on behalf of religious groups.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • John H. Mansfield

    John H. Mansfield is a professor emeritus at Harvard University Law School who has taught about issues arising under the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment. Contact Mansfield or his assistant, Marilyn Uzuner.

  • John H. Garvey

    John H. Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He is a co-author of Religion and the Constitution (Aspen, 2002), the leading casebook on law and religion. Contact his chief of staff, Frank G. Persico.

  • Jay D. Wexler

    Jay D. Wexler is a professor of law at Boston University School of Law, where he teaches law and religion.

  • Daniel Dreisbach

    Daniel Dreisbach is a nonpracticing lawyer and the author of Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State (New York University Press, 2003). He is also a professor in the school of public affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. He considers himself a “free speech and free exercise libertarian” in that he sides with maximizing free speech and exercise rights.

  • Francis Manion

    Francis Manion is senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., who specializes in First Amendment law and pro-life legal matters.  He has represented pharmacists and other health care professionals who have refused on moral principle to provide certain services to patients.

  • Robert A. Destro

    Robert A. Destro is a law professor and founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. He is an expert in freedom of religion, constitutional law (separation of powers), international human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association, bioethics, marriage law and civil rights.  Destro served as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983 to 1989.

     

  • Marci A. Hamilton

    Marci A. Hamilton is a professor at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. She is author of God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law.

In the South

  • Erwin Chemerinsky

    Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, is a nationally recognized expert in constitutional law. He has defended Guantanamo detainees.

  • Melissa Rogers

    Melissa Rogers served as special assistant to President Barack Obama and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She previously served as director of the Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs in Winston-Salem, N.C.; as founding executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; and as general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. Rogers is an expert on church-state issues and was a leader in the coalition that urged Congress to pass the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

  • Bryan K. Fair

    Bryan K. Fair is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, where his specialties include the First Amendment.

  • Thomas R. McCoy

    Thomas R. McCoy is a professor of law emeritus at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He retired from the university in 2008 but continues to speak frequently on First Amendment issues and advises the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center.

  • Robert Ash

    Robert Ash is senior litigation counsel for national security law for the American Center for Law and Justice. He is also a professor of law at the law school at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.

  • Susan McPherson

    In 2011, Susan McPherson rejoined Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff and Brandt as an associate in Birmingham, Ala., where she specializes in appellate litigation. She is also a member of the Birmingham chapter of the Christian Legal Society.

  • Howard Friedman

    Howard Friedman is a professor emeritus of law at the University of Toledo in Ohio who maintains a blog called Religion Clause on freedom of religion. He lives in Atlanta.

In the Midwest

  • Richard W. Garnett

    Richard W. Garnett is a professor of law at Notre Dame University. His areas of expertise include school choice, church and state relations, freedom of speech and religion. He contributes to the legal affairs blog PrawfsBlog. He is the author of Two There Are: Understanding the Separation of Church and State (forthcoming).

  • John Tuskey

    John Tuskey is a lawyer in Indiana and formerly taught at Regent University’s School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va., where he specialized in constitutional law.

  • Carl Esbeck

    Carl Esbeck is a professor of law at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he specializes in First Amendment issues, especially the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses.

  • Frank Lambert

    Frank Lambert is a history professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and author of The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton University Press, 2003).

  • Frank Ravitch

    Frank Ravitch is a professor of law and religion at Michigan State University in East Lansing and a scholar of constitutional law and of law and religion. He is author of School Prayer and Discrimination: The Civil Rights of Religious Minorities and Dissenters (Northeastern University, 2001) and Law and Religion, A Reader: Cases, Concepts and Theory (Thomson/West, 2004).

In the West

  • W. Cole Durham Jr.

    W. Cole Durham Jr. is a law professor and director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

  • L. Martin Nussbaum

    L. Martin Nussbaum is a partner at Rothgerber, Johnson & Lyons, where he represents religious institutions and schools in legal cases, including First Amendment cases. He works in Colorado Springs, Colo.

  • Mark David Hall

    Mark David Hall is a professor of political science at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore. Publications include The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life (2009); and The Sacred Rights of Conscience: Selected Readings on Religious Liberty and Church-State Relations in the American Founding (2009).

  • Edward Tabash

    Edward Tabash is a civil rights attorney and chairman of the National Legal Committee for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He is also chairman of the First Amendment Task Force of the Council for Secular Humanism. He lives in Los Angeles, Calif. Contact via his website.

  • Alan E. Brownstein

    Alan E. Brownstein is a professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Davis. He is a nationally known expert on religious freedom issues and has written widely about religious land use issues and states’ rights.

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