American Council of Christian Laymen Records, 1949-1964


The American Council of Christian Laymen (ACCL) was a national membership organization founded in 1949 and based in Madison, Wisconsin, which distributed literature to alert people to communist influences within American Protestant churches and public schools. Although the ACCL operated solely by mail and the organization consisted only of a small office staff, it had a great influence on the ideology of the far right during the 1950s. This influence was no doubt largely attributable to the energy and commitment of its founder and president Verne P. Kaub. Thus an understanding of ACCL policies and accomplishments requires knowledge of his career as a newspaperman, publicist, and religious activist.

Verne Paul Kaub was born in Harrison, Michigan on July 4, 1884, the son of Jacob and Elizabeth Kaub. His father died while Kaub was an infant, and to support the family, which also included two step-children, Elizabeth Kaub moved in 1897 to Rensselaer, Indiana, where she taught school. Kaub graduated from the schools there in 1902, and in 1903, after teaching in a rural school himself, he enrolled in the engineering program at the University of Wisconsin. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Kaub left the University in 1905 and moved to Elkhart, Indiana, where he worked as a surveyor. Somewhat by accident he began his career as a journalist during this period with a financial column in the Elkhart Truth. Following a period of unsettlement with regard to his employment, Kaub and his mother moved to Watertown, Wisconsin, where he was city editor of the Watertown Daily Times. In 1917 he bought an interest in the paper and became editor.

The sources are not clear on the nature of Kaub's political views at this period of his life. It is known that he later characterized his pre-World War I views as socialistic and that his editing of the paper was regarded by the locals as controversial. By 1920, however, Kaub had rejected socialism, and he left the newspaper business to devote himself to “patriotic work” with the Constitutional Defense League, an organization formed to oppose the Nonpartisan League. Eventually his finances forced Kaub to return to newspaper work, and by 1924 he had settled in Fond du Lac as a writer for the Commonwealth Reporter.

In 1935 Kaub designed a public relations program for public utilities and the Wisconsin Power and Light (WP&L) Company hired him as a public relations officer. Kaub moved to Madison where he became a frequent contributor of letters published in local papers. His work also appeared in Public Service, Ladies Home Journal, Farm Journal, and other publications. Thanks to support from WP&L, Kaub also began research for a longer work entitled “Journalism, Publicity and Propaganda.” In part due to the outbreak of World War II, this book was never published.

Shortly after moving to Madison, Kaub became a member of First Congregational Church. This experience, which exposed him to the Social Gospel Movement and the Council of Social Action, had a profound impact on Kaub. Although remaining a lifelong member of this church, he became a vehement opponent of what he considered to be the socialistic and anti-Christian doctrine of the Social Gospel Movement. Kaub articulated his views to other Christian libertarians, and in 1946 he published his ideas in the book Collectivism Challenges Christianity. The book was widely reviewed and it established him as a national leader among the religious right wing.

In 1948 Kaub joined Allen Zoll and other conservatives in founding the National Council of American Education. Kaub was elected vice-president and head of research, in which capacity he reviewed textbooks for communist propaganda.

In 1949 Kaub retired from Wisconsin Power and Light and went to Tennessee to research a proposed critical work on the Tennessee Valley Authority. While there he was prevailed upon by a number of easterners (apparently Zoll and other members of NCAE) who knew of his writing and his religious views to found a new organization that would oppose communist influences within American Protestant churches. Unlike similar organizations comprised of conservative clergy such as Spiritual Mobilization and the Church League of America, the proposed organization was to be made up of laymen. As the founders viewed it, so many congregations were headed by radical clergy who accepted Council of Social Action and even socialist and Marxist doctrine that only laymen could be relied upon to save the Church. As a result of this composition, the focus of the proposed organization was to be strictly secular.

Kaub accepted this proposal and on December 30, 1949 founded the American Council of Christian Laymen in Madison, Wisconsin. According to its articles of incorporation, the purpose of ACCL was to “foster the teaching of the basic principles of Christian Americanism, particularly in and through churches and church-connected organizations...and to...fight Communism in the churches.” Other incorporators included A.W. Larson and E.E. Espelien, two retired dealers of religious books. Officers of ACCL included Auriel E. Gleason, a Methodist who was secretary of NCAE and an associate of J.B. Matthews; Elizabeth Knauss, a fundamentalist Baptist Christian worker; John E. Waters, a “free-lance fighter against Communism” from Madison; and Donald Hickcox, a Madison fundamentalist employed at Oscar Mayer. Because ACCL protected the identity of its members and cooperators, no other names were released to the public.

The first activities of the ACCL included publishing How Red Is the National (Federal) Council of Churches, which remained for many years its most popular publication, and a prospectus, “Shall Our Churches Teach Christianity or Communism.” Other titles which were issued in subsequent years included Let Us Protestants Awake, The New Bible, Jesus, a Capitalist, Federal Aid: Trap for the Unwary, Communism and Socialism, Marxian Twins, Satan Goes to School, and The NCC Takes Its Stand. The latter three titles were all written by Kaub.

In 1951 Kaub, who continued as an officer of NCAE, began work on the Communist influence of the National Education Association. By the time his research was completed NCAE had collapsed and as a result Communist, Socialistic Propaganda in American Schools was issued by ACCL. At the same time ACCL also assumed NCAE's educational mission.

The American Council of Christian Laymen operated largely by profits derived from selling copies of its publications and other literature with which it agreed. Because it was unable to attract major contributors it always operated on a limited budget, and in 1954 almost went out of existence. That it was able to remain in operation for fifteen years was largely due to Kaub's dedication to its purposes and to his independent financial status as a retired person. In 1958, the year of ACCL's greatest success, the organization established a Washington, D.C. research operation which compiled voting statistics on Congress. This move into political libertarianism was underwritten by Willis Carto of Liberty Lobby. Although ACCL contemplated establishing a news service for libertarian publications, research efforts were discontinued by 1960. After moving into educational matters, ACCL also distributed a large number of reprints of McGuffey's Reader. After 1960, operations of the council were hindered by Kaub's declining health and by his inability to find a successor.

Nevertheless, Kaub continued to be active in a number of other organizations of the right. He was a leader in Congress of Freedom and on the advisory board of We, The People. In 1959 he participated in meetings which led to the establishment of the John Birch Society, although he never formally joined that organization.

After Kaub's death on September 5, 1964, ACCL was disbanded, and its records were deposited with the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Some of its publications were shipped to the American Council of Christian Churches, which apparently continued to distribute ACCL literature.