History of the Center for Public Justice

1977: Beginnings

  • After a decade of discussions involving people in Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan, the Association for Public Justice (APJ) and the APJ Education Fund are established to develop an integral Christian perspective on politics, law, and society.
  • The Public Justice Report is launched as APJ’s first official publication.
  • APJ co-sponsors the first International Christian Political Conference, bringing together nearly 700 Christians from the United States and Canada to discuss a range of topics. Sen. Mark Hatfield delivers the keynote address, emphasizing the importance of Christian communal activity.

1978-81: Early growth

  • APJ begins to grow, as supporters define research projects and reach out to local communities:
  • Rockne McCarthy and James Skillen testify before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in support of the Tuition Tax Credit Act, which would allow parents in non-state schools to deduct a portion of the tuition payment from their federal income taxes.
  • Skillen, McCarthy, and William Harper publish the association’s first book, Disestablishment a Second Time: Genuine Pluralism for American Schools.
  • Skillen is named executive director and points APJ toward political education and leadership development.
  • APJ refines its research agenda, tackling the issues of education reform, agriculture, foreign policy, world hunger, human rights, and self-determination.
  • APJ publishes Christians Organizing for Political Service, a primer defining the importance of civic responsibility.
  • Regional coordinators promote the work and goals of APJ by hosting local conferences.

1982-84: Getting busy in Washington, D.C.

  • APJ opens a Washington, D.C., office and dedicates itself to critical policy initiatives.
  • APJ develops several policy papers, including “Just Defense and Nuclear Weapons” and “Justice for the Unborn.”
  • The APJ Education Fund releases a study kit on land conservation policy.
  • The association releases an analysis of the 1984 presidential candidates.
  • Research moves forward on farm policy reform.
  • APJ hosts a major national conference, “Religion in American Politics: Good Fix or Bad Fit?” Other seminars and conferences follow.

1985-89: Forging new relationships

  • As APJ’s support base grows, new partnerships form. Some emerge from a shared tradition of Christian scholarship, while others stem from a common vision to inspire Christian civic responsibility in the public square.
  • APJ hosts a visiting international delegation of European Young Christian Democrats.
  • The APJ Education Fund is renamed the Center for Public Justice (CPJ), reflecting a commitment to create an independent think tank focused on civic education.
  • CPJ collaborates with the Christian Legal Society on a project to increase awareness of Christian responsibility in public life.
  • Regional conferences prompt dialogue on issues of pluralism, religious freedom, education reform, and civic duty.

1990-91: Reaching out

The Center reaches deeper into the Christian community and goes international:

  • Skillen travels to a united Germany to address Christian Democrats on the ongoing process of European integration.
  • Skillen meets with top-ranking European political officials, including former Belgian prime minister Leo Tindemans.
  • The Center co-hosts the international conference on Christianity and democracy with the Law and Religion Program at Emory University. Among the speakers are former President Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican Archbishop.
  • The Lily Endowment awards the Center a grant to conduct a one-year project examining the relationship between religion and American law and politics.
  • Zondervan publishes Skillen’s The Scattered Voice: Christians at Odds in the Public Square.
  • Scholars Press publishes Political Order and the Plural Structure of Society, edited by Skillen and McCarthy.

1992-94: Rapid growth

  • The Center receives a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to conduct a three-year research project on the crisis of welfare policy, led by fellow Stanley Carlson-Thies. One of the eventual fruits of this project is the Charitable Choice provision of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.
  • Baker Books publishes The School Choice Controversy: What Is Constitutional?, edited by Skillen.
  • The Center launches its first website.
  • The Center hosts a national “Public Justice and Welfare Reform” conference in Washington, D.C.

1995-97: Inspiring leadership

1998-2000: Clarifying the mission, encouraging learning

  • CPJ’s trustees adopt a new purpose statement (Serve God, Advance Justice, and Transform Public Life) and a new mission statement (Equip Citizens, Develop Leaders, and Shape Policy).
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts appoint Skillen and Keith Pavlischek as directors of the Pew Civitas Program on Faith and Public Affairs. The program – affiliated with CPJ, The Brookings Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute – encourages Christian graduate students as they prepare for leadership positions in academia, government, and public policy. 
  • Skillen is the keynote speaker at the opening of the Institute for Christian Politics in Seoul, South Korea. 
  • The Center co-hosts a 100th anniversary celebration of Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures with Princeton Theological Seminary, Calvin College, and the Free University of Amsterdam. Eerdmans publishes Religion, Pluralism, and Public Life as the culmination of the conference.
  • In partnership with Gordon College’s Center for Christian Scholarship, CPJ launches the Saints and Citizens project, a two-year study funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts to assess the effectiveness of civic education programs in Christian organizations throughout the U.S.

2001-05: Continuity and new beginnings

  • CPJ releases two major reports on the implementation of the Charitable Choice provision and the building of closer ties between government and faith-based groups. The Center becomes the premier national resource on issues related to faith-based social service.
  • In 2001, the Center’s senior policy director, Stanley Carlson-Thies, is appointed by President George W. Bush to serve in the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives at the White House. 
  • Princeton Seminary awards Skillen the Kuyper Prize for excellence in scholarship, Reformed theology, and public life. 
  • In 2002, the Center celebrates its 25th year and sees its 48th scholar complete the Pew Civitas Program on Faith and Public Affairs.
  • Carlson-Thies returns to the Center, serving as a consultant to state governments in the implementation of the Faith-Based Initiative. 
  • Rowman & Littlefield Publishers releases two books by Skillen, In Pursuit of Justice: Christian-Democratic Explorations and With or Against the World? America’s Role Among the Nations.
  • The Center begins publishing a series of policy basics called Guidelines for Government and Citizenship.
  • A Revolution of Compassion, by Carlson-Thies with Dave Donaldson, is released.
  • An overview of the Center, from a Canadian perspective, appears in Comment magazine.


  • The Civitas Leadership Seminar is revamped into a one-week summer program for participants from various fields, not just graduate students.
  • No Magic Wand: The Idealization of Science in Law, by David S. Caudill and Lewis H. LaRue, is released as the next CPJ book in the Rowman & Littlefield series.
  • In 2006-07 the Center welcomes professor Steven Meyer as a visiting fellow, working on global change and international politics.
  • Skillen and Carlson-Thies are invited to speak in South Africa, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and New Zealand.
  • In 2007 CPJ begins publishing Root & Branch, a periodical about the religion and society debate.
  • In celebration of the Center's 30th anniversary in 2007 and in anticipation of the 2008 presidential election, Skillen travels the country to hold "Conversations on America's Future."
  • In 2008 Skillen starts a new project on economic justice.
  • The Center launches a redesigned website.
  • Carlson-Thies launches a new organization based on his work at the Center: the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.
  • In September 2009 Skillen retires as president, and Dr. Gideon Strauss becomes the Center's second leader.
  • In July 2011 Stephanie Summers is appointed Chief Executive Officer, and Gideon Strauss is named Senior Fellow.
  • The Center publishes its 2011-2012 annual report.