At the top of “Religion in the News” this week is the beginning of the Jewish New Year, observance of which began at sundown last Wednesday and continues for 10 days. This season of penitence and prayer began with Rosh Hashanah, and will end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Jews received a special message from President Eisenhower, in which the chief executive said, in part, “It is fitting for all to give thanks for the past 12 months and to look to the future with confidence born of the mercy of God … The blessings of life and the freedoms all of us enjoy in this land today are based in no small measure on the Ten Commandments which have been handed down to us by the religious teachers of the Jewish faith. These commandments … provide endless opportunities for fruitful service, and they are a stronghold of moral purpose for men everywhere. In this season, as our citizens of the Jewish faith bow their heads in prayer and lift their eyes in hope, we offer them the best wishes of our hearts.” And that, this reporter might add, is a wish in which most of us join the president of the United States.
Incidentally, it might be pointed out, Touro Synagogue, built in 1763, and now a national monument, is America’s oldest Jewish house of worship and is located in Newport, Rhode Island, near where the chief executive is vacationing.
At a recent meeting of the National Home Demonstration Council at Ohio State University, a rabbi declared that “Responsibility is the price of opportunity.” Rabbi Jerome D. Folkman of Columbus, Ohio, also told the women gathered from all over the United States that irresponsible individuals are dangerous in such a society as ours. He added that some persons would solve the problems thus created by restricting the opportunities of many. But, Rabbi Folkman states this is not the American way. He sees our way of life as one that teaches responsibility. And that, he declared, is why education is so essential to us. He asserted that full education requires the cooperation of home, church, and school, and not through force, but through a mutual recognition of their common responsibility.
The U.S. lost one of its nationally known pastors and religious leaders this week. Dr. A. Powell Davies, minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., died unexpectedly of a heart attack Thursday. Dr. Davies, a native of Britain, was a Methodist minister there and in the US until 1933, when he became a Unitarian. He was an outspoken liberal, and often based his sermons on current news. He had been chairman of the Emergency Conference on Civilian Control of Atomic Energy and president of Food for Freedom.
Some of you listeners have taken me to task for the persistence and consistency with which I have presented items and comment supporting separation of church and state. A few have seemed emotional about the matter, asserting that ours is a nation founded upon Christianity. Well, in the first place, few arguments are settled by emotion; even religious problems. And in the second place, even a casual familiarity with the basic framework and trends of American history refutes the claim that ours is a nation founded on any particular religion, though, admittedly, more of us affiliate with some one of the Christian faith than we do with non-Christian ones.
But as for the assertion that historically, our nation was grounded in the Christian religion, let us look at a few facts. In 1787 in Philadelphia, when someone suggested that the Constitutional Convention be opened with prayer each day, Alexander Hamilton, somewhat facetiously perhaps, emphasized that the convention was there to handle problems relating to the United States, and he felt that this could be handled by the delegates without the intervention of any foreign power. Apparently, this was the consensus of the convention, for there were no daily invocations to the Hebrew God or to any other.
George Washington, who was also at the convention, remarked on June 10, 1797, in connection with the treaty of peace and friendship with Tripoli, that “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion.”
James Madison, called the “Father of the Constitution,” and the fourth president of the U.S., said in his tract entitled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” in 1787, that “Religious establishments … have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny … upholding the throne of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people.” And, I might add, this was a battle to keep the church from dominating the schools, and yet there are among us some sincere but simple souls who would have religion taught in the schools.
Jefferson was more bitter and less diplomatic in 1794 regarding his hope for the revolutionary armies of France, when he said that he hoped they would “kindle the wrath of the people of Europe and bring … kings, nobles, and priests to the scaffolds which they have been so long deluging with human blood.”
There are others, but time does not permit their inclusion. It is about time that we stopped using religion, of the Christian or any other variety, as an element of nationalism and a part of national policy.
In this connection, it is pertinent to call your attention to an article appearing in The Christian Century of September 11, by one Virgil M. Rogers, teacher, high school principal, and city superintendent of public schools in Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan, before going to Syracuse University as the dean of the school of education. Calling his article, “Are Public Schools Godless?”, Mr. Rogers said, “The American concept of separation of church and state is, I believe, the supreme protector of all our individual freedoms.” Again, “The public schools are not ‘Protestant schools’. They are the schools provided by government for all the children of all the people by virtue of common citizenship in the USA. As such they and they alone are to be financed from the public treasury. They must of course be secular. There is nothing sinister and unclean about that word … It is not to say godless, anti-religious, in league with evil, but merely secular, like the courts or the presidency.”
Two major items in the news for some time contain moral and ethical elements, and some of us believe they have heavy religious overtones as well. I refer to the perhaps forthcoming election of a Teamsters Union president next week, and the “Faubulous” situation in Arkansas. In both situations, much remains to be desired.
For months now the Senate committee investigating corruption in labor unions has uncovered item after item that leaves a foul smell on the administration of the out-going president, one Dave Beck. The odor is not much more delightful regarding his would-be successor, James Hoffa. The revelations have become so serious that the AFL–CIO Council has given the Teamsters so many days to clean house or get out. Now it appears there is evidence to rig the Florida convention and elect Hoffa by handpicked delegates, delegates that do not represent the wishes of the rank and file of the membership. Whatever the outcome of the convention and further investigation by the Senate committee, the Teamsters, or any other union, will enjoy the confidence and support of the public only so long as it operates honestly, respects and practices the democratic process, and is in control of officials who feel keenly their responsibility not only to the majority of the membership, but also to the American public as well. Labor unions are a necessary concomitant to our industrial growth and development. There is no more room for skullduggery in a labor union than there is in the National Association of Manufacturers. Unfortunately, over the years, there has been evidence of far too much in both, but the two wrongs do not make a right. This reporter feels the importance of this matter keenly, for he has long been a member of the American Federation of Teachers, an AFL affiliate. But he has no defense to make of this or any other organization that permits itself to get into a position where such suspicions and evidences exist.
As for the Arkansas situation, many of us who have followed it carefully from the first have been amazed at the continued succession of blunders. Not only that, but distortions, misrepresentations, etc. It is deplorable that federal troops were sent into Little Rock. But given the condition of things last Monday, the fact that the matter had been allowed to drift as it had, perhaps the federal action was about the last resort. There are two disturbing questions that have not been satisfactorily answered about the whole affair. One is, why did fabled Faubus order the National Guard to surround the high school and prevent the law from being enforced? He talks sanctimoniously about his regard for the constitution of the state of Arkansas and that of the United States. Yet, when he took the oath of governor, he not only swore that he would uphold the state constitution, but also the federal one as well. He violated that oath when he used force to prevent the enforcement of provisions of the federal Constitution he was sworn to uphold. There can be no excuse, no defense for that. Segregation or integration has nothing to do with this central question. The local federal court had made its decision and the matter was then on appeal to the Circuit Court of Appeals. Until the higher court ruled otherwise, the edict of the local judge was the law, and that law Faubus was sworn to uphold. Instead, he used all the force at his command to defy the law, and this defiance was a green light to all the rabble-rousers and hoodlums to do as they please. And they did that last Monday.
The next question that remains unanswered is: What went on between Faubus and Eisenhower in their conference about the Little Rock situation? Some of us hoped we’d find out right after the conference, but both governor and president said nothing that meant anything. From both, the essence of their statements was that a great deal of “constructive” discussion went on. This is diplomatic double-talk that quite often means nothing important happened.
Again, we hope that the president, in his address to the nation this week, would let us know. It appeared that he was going to do so by saying that he would trace the sequence of events that led to the sending of troops, but he stopped short of saying anything about his conference with the governor. We cannot help but wonder if things would not have gone differently if the president, at the Ike – Orval conference, had said something like this: “Governor, the courts have approved the plan of integration in Little Rock and have said it is to go into effect immediately. You may not like that, and I may not. But until or unless this decision is overruled, it is the law of the land and will be enforced. It is in the American tradition that law enforcement should be done at the local level. But if that fails, and if the state enforcement machinery does not enforce the law, then the federal troops will. Make no mistake about that.” Maybe this was said, but the president has not said so.
It is true that many, perhaps most, of the citizens of Arkansas, and of Little Rock, prefer segregation. If that is true, if enough Americans agree with them, then there is a legal, a constitutional way, to change things through a constitutional amendment. But unless law and order are upheld, our whole structure of government collapses and anarchy results. And the ethical and moral aspects of the whole problem is simply that we the citizens have a right for elected officials, governor and/or president, to respect their oaths to uphold the law. Somebody failed to do so in this case. Of Faubus we can be sure he did; of Eisenhower, we wait for him to let us know what happened.
Name-calling, evasions, and assertions – all have been resorted to by assorted individuals of various political hues and persuasions. But neither the misrepresentations of Sen. Russell Johnson of South Carolina, Talmadge of Georgia, and other of like ilk can remove the fact that American citizens of the colored race were being denied their rights to go to school at Central High School. And perhaps it is more than a token of the difference between the value of things in our democracy that we are willing to invoke the aid and majesty of the federal government to protect the rights of nine colored students, for a great man a long time ago said that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.”