Religion and law in Contemporary US
Bill Long 9/15/06
Week II: During and After WWII (1941-50)
Here is the outline, with texts, for the second week of my class. The next essay comments on some of these materials.
RELIGION AND LAW FROM WWII - 1950
I. The Religion of FDR--"For God and For Country"
A Signficant Thinker Encouraging Interventionism--Reinhold Niebuhr
Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer
The Four Chaplains--the Experience and the Commemoration Stamp
II. The Origins and Early Growth of the National Association of Evangelicals
Who They Were in 1942?--and What they Were Trying to Do?
A Christian Amendment to the US Constitution?
III. Law Speaks--the Supreme Court and the Separation of Church and State (1947)
case is Everson v. Board of Education.
In a Feb. 10, 1941 article entitled "The Christian Faith and the World Crisis," Niebuhr argued:
"We are well aware of the sins of all the nations, including our own, which have contributed to the chaos of our era. We know to what degree totalitarianism represents false answers to our own unsolved problems---political, economic, spiritual.
Yet we believe the task of defending the rich inheritance of our civilization to be an imperative one, however much we might desire that our social system were more worthy of defense. We believe that the possibility of correcting its faults and extending its gains may be annulled for centuries if this external peril is not resolutely faced. We do not find it particularly impressive to celebrate one's sensitive conscience by enlarging upon all the well-known evils of our western world and equating them with the evils of the totalitarian systems...We think it dangerous to allow religious sensitivity to obscure the fact Nazi tyranny intends to annihilate the Jewish race, to subject the nations of Europe to the dominion of a 'master' race, to extirpate the Christian religion, to annul the liberties and legal standards that are the priceless heritage of ages of Christian and humanistic culture, to make the truth the prostitute of political power, to seek world dominion through its satraps and allies, and generally to destroy the very fabric of our western civilization."
FDR, in his D-Day prayer, delivered over the radio on the evening of Tuesday, June 6, 1944.
" In this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor ... to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness to their faith.
They will need Thy blessings.... They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violence of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and for tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas -- whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice....
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
Ever since the mid-1860s, the National Reform Association, in order to "save" America, suggested a Christian Amendment to the US Constitution. The National Association of Evangelicals picked it up in 1945 and tried unsuccessfully to mount national campaigns to get it enacted in 1947 and 1954. Here is the language:
"This nation divinely recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of Nations through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God."
Finally, from the 1947 US Supreme Court decision, Everson v. Board of Education , we have the following language about the separation of Church and State. I hope to have enough time in class to lay out the facts of this judicial case.
"The establishment of religion clause means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government may set up a church. Neither can pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance... . Neither a state or the federal government may, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'"
Well, here are the relevant facts of the case, as presented by Justice Black in the 5-4 majority decision, which allowed reimbursement.
"A New Jersey statute authorizes its local school districts to make rules and contracts for the transportation of children to and from schools. The appellee, a township board of education, acting pursuant to this statute, authorized reimbursement to parents of money expended by them for the bus transportation of their children on regular busses operated by the public transportation system. Part of this money was for the payment of transportation of some children in the community to Catholic parochial schools. These church schools give their students, in addition to secular education, regular religious instruction conforming to the religious tenets and modes of worship of the Catholic Faith. The superintendent of these schools is a Catholic priest.
The appellant, in his capacity as a district taxpayer, filed suit in a state court challenging the right of the Board to reimburse parents of parochial school students. He contended that the statute and the resolution passed pursuant to it violated both the State and the Federal Constitutions...."
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long