The appointment by the President of the United States of Myron C. Taylor as his personal representative to the Vatican was probably the event that most directly prompted the holding of the interdenominational religious-liberty conference which met in Calvary Baptist Church in the capital city on June 11. However, there were a number of other subjects bearing upon the relation to the state of the church as a whole, as well as of the individual members, that for some time have caused concern to thinking people.
A small group took it upon themselves to question ministers in Washington and the vicinity concerning their attitude toward the holding of a meeting to discuss these relationships. More than one hundred Protestant and Jewish clergymen gave approval to the idea of a wider inquiry on the advisability of calling such a meeting. Letters were then sent to some six hundred religious leaders. More than four hundred replied, giving permission for the use of their names as sponsors of the proposed conference. The following call was then issued:
"The preservation of our national civilization depends upon the spiritual unity, the lofty purpose, and the heroic devotion of the American people. It is imperative, in the greatest crisis the modern world has ever confronted, that the people of America define their deep-lying spiritual unity, formulate anew their lofty national purpose, and dedicate themselves to the strengthening of everything that is so precious in our American culture, because in so doing we will best serve, not only our own, but also the interests of the whole world.
"We hold that religious liberty is the principle that creates our spiritual unity ; its preservation, the purpose that should dominate American life; and the consecration of our resources to its maintenance, our immediate and our inescapable duty.
"Believing this, we are calling for a Conference on Religious Liberty, to be held in Washington, D.C.. June it, 1940, and we invite you . . . to attend and to participate in its deliberations.
"We are faced today with a moral and religious crisis that is more than a challenge ; it is a terrifying threat to the standards of accepted conduct that our fathers bequeathed to this generation. There arises out of the enjoyment of religious liberty an inescapable obligation which, in this tragic hour, has a range and an intensity never known before in our national life. It is the hope of those who sign this call that the conference may contribute to the awakening of a passionate interest in the moral and spiritual rearmament of the American people—the form of preparedness the nation most needs. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.'"
The program began at ten in the morning, and after a short opening address, the delegates divided into seminars for the study of (I) War, with particular attention being given to the rights of conscientious objectors. (2) Chaplains: A discussion with relation to churches and the chaplains in the Army, Navy, Reserve, CCC Camps, and other governmental institutions. (3) State and church: The guiding principle in determining the separation of church and state; governmental relations with ecclesiastical bodies and pressures in politics, inspired by religious intolerance. (4) Social Security : A consideration of pending Social Security legislation that involves the taxing of churches, religious institutions, and related agencies. (5) Taxation: The appropriation of tax-raised monies to sectarian institutions.
Attention Given to Taylor Appointment
Under item 3, first attention was given to the Taylor appointment, and there was an overwhelming sentiment in favor of registering a strong protest against the continuance of this relationship between the United States Government and the Vatican. Some of the delegates were vehement in their denouncement. Others spoke more calmly, but in most cases their feelings were no less strong.
Naturally, because of world conditions, the seminar devoted to war had the largest attendance. The discussion in this section was led by Dr. Roland H. Bainton of Yale University. There were many voices raised by those who want someone to tell them exactly what to do in a crisis, but there were few who had definite convictions about the course they would conscientiously pursue if our Government becomes involved in war. The predominating belief was held, however, that men who are conscientiously opposed to the bearing of arms should be given exemption by the Government from such duty, but should be required to engage in noncombatant service that can be helpful to the nation.
The general opinion of those who considered the question of the taxing of churches under proposed Social Security legislation was that when once the state begins to tax the churches, grave difficulties are sure to appear. It was recognized by all, that for the state to provide pensions for the employees of the church, is to embark upon a system of regulation that would be disastrous. Unfortunately, some delegates were apparently attracted by the possibility of getting money from the Government, but even these were afraid of the results that might follow. It was finally concluded that the churches should request Congress not to pass the bills now before it which deal with this matter, but give further study to the subject.
The use of tax-raised funds to aid sectarian institutions was considered by a small, but wide-awake, group. Facts were presented to show that in many places in different parts of the country the whole spirit of the separation of church and state is being violated by local officials. Where Catholic parochial-school buildings have been rented by public-school boards, because the Catholics have announced that they were unable to carry on their schoolwork unaided by the Government, there has been in no case of which we could learn, a redistricting of the city. Instead, Catholic children go to the buildings to which they have gone before, and public-school children go to the buildings to which they have gone before.
This plan of operation virtually furnishes Catholic schools at public expense, and by public-school officials. In every one of these cases there have been hired Catholic teachers only, and in the most flagrant instances these teachers have been recommended by Catholic authorities with no others being employed. In a number of instances the nuns wear their religious garb and are known by their religious names, and they sign report cards and
diplomas with their title of Sister ____ . Perhaps in no other manner has the spirit of complete separation of church and state been so flagrantly violated as in the matter of using tax funds for the benefit of sectarian schools. Every delegate who attended the seminar which dealt with the use of tax-raised funds to aid sectarian institutions was surprised at the number of instances of such violations that were cited.
The high point of the day was a mass meeting held in Constitution Hall in the evening. About three thousand were present. The hall holds four thousand, and it had been hoped that it would be full, but some space was left unoccupied. The Adventists naturally were present in large numbers, and it is our belief that if the clergy of the other churches in the city of Washington had had any real conception of conditions as they are, and of events that are rapidly coming to pass, they would have so fired their congregations with a sense of the dangers which we now face that hundreds would have been turned away from this great mass meeting.
Addresses were made by Rabbi Louis L. Mann, of the Sinai Congregation of Chicago, Dr. Samuel McCrea Cavert, general secretary of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ, and Dr. Charles Clayton Morrison, editor of the Christian Century. All the addresses were good, but the last was superb. Doctor Morrison's enunciation of certain fundamental principles concerning the separation of church and state was masterly, his reasoning was cogent, his argument unassailable, and his fine ability to see through sophistries and point out essential truth left all present feeling that they had heard a great address.
Doctor Morrison has been the outstanding figure in seeking to arouse this nation to the implications involved in the appointment of Mr. Taylor to the Vatican. His message at the mass meeting was strong meat, and it was evident that some men there were unable to receive it. There are those who are willing to compromise, those who are willing to sacrifice "essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety." It is imperative that all who understand what is really involved in the issues we now face should be willing to give all they possess of both time and energy in a final endeavor to preserve the things bought by our forefathers at so great a cost.
Looking over the conference as a whole, it is sad to have to say that though it undoubtedly accomplished much good, it revealed a woeful lack on the part of many religious leaders of a true understanding of the underlying principles of the separation of church and state, and an almost complete lack of understanding of the imminent dangers we face.
A number of our S.D.A. workers from the headquarters area gave such help as they could in planning for this meeting. While none of us expected that it would accomplish all that needed to be done, we hoped that valuable contacts might be made with men of other denominations, and that these men might someday help to hold back the forces of persecution for a time at least.
The best that can be hoped for the conference, as a whole, is (1) that after the delegates return to their homes they may arouse new interest in their congregations and among their friends in the matter of separation of church and state, and thus spread the influence of the meeting; and (2) that arrangements may be made for a continuing campaign through the press and by the radio to educate Americans concerning the dangers they face.