The Book of the Week is “Embattled Wall, Americans United: An Idea and a Man” by C. Stanley Lowell, published in 1966.
Separation of Church and State requires a zero-tolerance policy, lest little things open the floodgates to bigger things, one thing leads to another, and those little things eventually lead to the Spanish Inquisition, or some other theocracy as is seen in many countries in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Besides, there are other reasons for separation of Church and State:
- Religious entities that pay no taxes have a competitive advantage if they provide goods and services the same way tax-paying capitalist entities do. This includes private education services, and
- Citizens probably don’t want their taxes to financially assist institutions associated with a religion other than their own.
After WWII in the United States, the power of the Catholic Church was on the increase. Beginning in 1947, the Church began to aggressively request government subsidies for its parochial school system. The author wrote, “…The National Catholic Welfare Conference… [were] like professional lobbyists… actually assisting in the drafting of legislation… cajoling, promising, threatening.”
Protestants felt that money was earned through work, not subsidies, so initially, they were against public funding for their schools. Thus, when over-achieving attorney Glenn Archer founded the group, Americans United— which litigated for separation of Church and State– Protestants assisted him.
The actual full name of the organization was “Protestants and Other Americans United For Separation of Church and State” (hereinafter referred to as “AU”). Other groups that supported them included Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Scientists. Jews mostly avoided the fray, but they were offended that the group had the word “church” in its name.
The Catholics launched a smear campaign against Archer and AU. Catholic publications trotted out the usual righteously indignant accusations, “bigot, religious prejudice, Ku Klux Klan, Communist, racist,” etc. The language in Jesuit propaganda was open to multiple interpretations (among many other examples):
“Freedom of choice in education”
which, in AU’s words, translated to:
“Canon Law 1374 denies freedom of choice in education to Catholic parents, ordering them to send their children to Catholic schools.” In other words, the Catholic Church strongly believes that its worshippers should follow religious law before civil law whenever there is a clash between them.
Jesuits: “Justice for children”
AU: “Subsidies for Catholic schools”
The author also described a Catholic rabble rouser: “His posture of outraged purity impressed the majority who had no understanding of the real issues in the case.”
When American president Harry Truman proposed the appointing of an ambassador to the Vatican, AU protested that this was a violation of separation of Church and State, as the leader of the Vatican (the Pope) was a worldwide religious leader. AU and a sufficient number of individual complainants helped put the kibosh on that appointment.
The State Department was peeved because it could have used the Catholic Church (which had many houses of worship around the world) to assist with espionage– er, uh, fostering friendly relationships with nations that had Catholic citizens.
In 1958, the world got a new Pope, thanks in part to votes cast by Catholic cardinals in America. AU cited 8 U.S. Code 1481 of the Immigration and Nationality Act as a reason to revoke the citizenship of those cardinals. For, any American citizen who votes in a foreign country could be stripped of his citizenship.
The Church weakly counter-argued that the Pope is primarily a religious leader, and secondarily a national leader. However, AU produced support for its own arguments in the form of a few previous legal cases of citizenship revocations, plus American government documentation that showed the Vatican to be a political entity.
During the 1960 presidential election between Richard Nixon and the Catholic John F. Kennedy, AU asked questions to determine JFK’s positions on separation of Church and State. The U.S. Supreme Court, AU and JFK were all in agreement.
A few different laws were passed through the years, that granted subsidies pursuant to state laws, in addition to ongoing student loan programs:
- 1958, Defense Education Act
- 1963, Higher Education Facilities Act (which allowed a university– even that run by a religious institution– to acquire property at a fire-sale price from the government, and then to get permission to construct campus buildings with public funds), and
- 1965, Elementary and Secondary Education Act
During those years, in effect, federal taxpayers were financially aiding Catholic education more than that of any other religion, as 95% of religious schools were Catholic.
In the late 1950’s, Franklin County in Missouri won a great legal victory against the Catholic Church. The court ruled that, “…schools were not in fact free public schools and were not entitled to be supported by public school money or public funds.”
In a Burlington, Vermont lawsuit, AU cited the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the vague language of the Vermont Constitution regarding separation of Church and State allowed for loopholes.
Read the book to learn about the practice of “captive schools” and a wealth of additional information on the tenor of the times in connection with legal fights over public funding for religious education.