A rather curious twist in the problem of religious freedom occurred recently in the state of Washington. For many years a small army of evangelists representing a dozen or so church groups had been visiting King Country Prison and holding services in the corridors outside the cells. Apparently the evangelists did not inquire as to whether the inmates wanted such services. Last summer a prisoner got a lawyer to file suit charging that the constitutional rights of the inmates to religious freedom were being denied; and that a prison rule was being broken, a rule that permitted religious services outside the cells in the prison chapel.
The case finally came to Seattle’s superior court. Witnesses, quite naturally appeared for both sides. Some insisted that they appreciated the services and that through them they, the prisoners, had been helped to find ways to a better life. Others complained that the evangelists competed loudly with each other, asked for contributions, and played loud music or talked in a loud voice if the prisoners themselves tried to converse with each other while the services were going on.
In handing down his decision, the judge avoided the constitutional issue of invasion of the right of religious freedom, but he refused to terminate the services. However, he also refused the evangelists the right to hold their services in corridors outside the cells, and holding the prison rule that services should be held in the chapel should be observed in the future.
Now it is easy for all of us to let our emotions enter here and be swayed in one direction or the other in such a controversy. Many of use would likely be inclined to conclude that services of this kind, whether wanted or not, would be a wholesome influence upon the inhabitants of the prison. However, once we admit the right of any religious group to a captive audience, we concede the power of the state to promote that religious faith. In this case, it was the prisoners in King’s County, Washington. If we make this concession, it is but a fairly short step to conceding the right of a religious group to proselyte in the schools, or in any other situation where individuals cannot easily avoid subjection to a doctrine or belief imposed upon them by a government. We cannot have freedom of religion without also having freedom from religion, and however much we may subscribe to a particular faith, we cannot escape this simple fact.
During the past year, much has been heard about the work of various philanthropic foundations. At least one congressional committee made the headlines for awhile by castigating the foundations for the work they were doing in the social sciences. What brought this up is a recent report on the work of the Ford Foundation, an organization which to date has made gifts totaling more than $350 million. During the past 12 months it has given or committed $134 million primarily for education and research. A total of $50 million will go to college and universities for improvement of teaching salaries; $20 million will be used by the Merit Scholarship Corporation to provide four-year scholarships to talented boys and girls who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education; and $15 million will support natural scientific and medical research on the problem of mental illness.
There is a point of unique interest about this foundation, namely, that the Ford family in establishing and maintaining it, were determined that it should become a public trust, and that it should be guided and controlled by a board of trustees drawn from all sections of the country and broadly experienced in education, business, finance, and the mass media. The present board is so composed, and in its judgment the most critical problems of this century “arise out of man’s relations to man, rather than relation to the physical world. People everywhere,” it goes on, “are confronted by the necessity of choosing between two methods for conducting their affairs: one is democratic, dedicated to the freedom and dignity of the individual; the other is authoritarian, subordinating human rights and truth to the state.” And one is likely to find few informed persons who would attempt successfully to challenge the wording of this dilemma, or to argue that the dilemma does not exist.
In carrying out its work, the Foundation is dedicated to five broad fields:
- Supporting efforts to increase international understanding and promote world peace;
- Strengthening democratic institutions and processes;
- Advancing economic well-being;
- Improving education;
- Encouraging the natural scientific study of human behavior.
Activity sponsored or aided by this foundation is going on almost everywhere except behind the Iron Curtain. It is going on in the explosive Middle East, in India, in Southeast Asia, the Far East, in Western Europe; in short, its overseas program forms a ring of democratic effort along the sensitive border of the Soviet Iron Curtain.
Well, there is a brief, thumbnail sketch of the ramifications of one of the foundations. Again, few informed persons would hardly challenge the desirability of its broad aims, even though there may be, and are, many differences of opinion as to whether a specific policy or program within these aims is desirable. It would seem a not unwarranted conclusion, on the whole that the organization will continue to perform its services to the benefit of mankind as the best judgment of the board of trustees defines that benefit.
One of the things that has puzzled this reporter many times, and it still does, is the neatness with which some people have divided all life into two parts: secular and religious. To them, it would appear that the secular is a nuisance, interfering with the religion. To some, the secular is even non-religious. Most of us agree that religion is natural, native, and intrinsic to man, not exterior to him. But a goodly number have difficulty, as I do, in keeping these worlds so neatly separate and apart. This number would insist that religion deals not only with man and a possible invisible world, but is greatly concerned about man as he exists on this planet. Perhaps some of you listeners out there can enlighten me on where the line can be drawn with certainty between secular and religious. I should appreciate it. Obviously there are areas which most of us would agree are secular, others about which there would be agreement with respect to religion, but what about the spaces in between? I merely ask; the answer I do not know.
During the last session of Congress, Senators Hennings of Missouri, O’Mahoney of Wyoming, and William Langer of North Dakota were appointed to a subcommittee to inquire into violations of civil rights and liberties. They sent out a questionnaire. They announced the committee would begin with violations of the First Amendment, which includes, among other things, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” When the evidence began to pile in the committee apparently realized it was opening up a great controversial field, and cancelled the hearings. It was deemed inexpedient to go ahead. Only obscure releases have appeared in the nation’s press. Maybe this is adding up two and two and getting three or five, but all of this item seems to point up the need, and the obligation, on the part of the subcommittee to do its part in getting to the people the facts about the often silent struggles going on in this country involving values of democracy – and thus religion.
Last Sunday I mentioned that a Catholic declaration by 208 members of the church hierarchy subscribed to the idea that private and parochial schools “exist by right in the United States. On that ground, discriminatory treatment of them is unfair.” Such discrimination specifically includes the matter of sharing funds, public and/or private. Well, a largely Protestant organization, called Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State did not let the declaration go unnoticed. Glenn L. Archer, executive director of the organization, called it, among other things, “studied nonsense.” His organization is opposed to the use of public tax funds to aid students at religious schools. And as for this reporter, no further comment.