Worldview

Commentary on religious news around the world.

Roland Hegstad is editor of Liberty, a magazine concerning religious freedom.

No room in the school

In Guilderland High School, in upper New York State, some 60 non-school groups have used school facilities, among them a local choir, music groups, private dance companies, unions, the United States Air Force, the Marines, the Rotary. But students who wish to use an unused classroom for prayer before morning classes have been denied per mission. They have taken their case to Federal court in Albany. The students contend that refusal of their request abridges their rights to free speech, free assembly, free association, and equal protection under the law.

It would be nice if the students added a prayer for the justices who will have to settle their case. But, prayer or no prayer, the students seem on the way to teaching school officials something about constitutional rights.

Watchman on the wall?

The United States Air Force should not have honorably discharged Airman Steve Ristau, who insisted that rules against reading the Bible while on sentry duty were "an infringement of religious freedom." Mr. Ristau, a Southern Baptist who calls himself a born-again Christian, was a member of the Air Force police at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.

"It wouldn't have happened if it had been Playboy I was reading," says Ristau. Air Force officers say it would have. Reading anything while on guard duty, in their viewpoint, reduces one's ability to guard.

Now, we could support the right of a member of the Armed Forces to carry a Bible on guard duty, assuming it could be tucked away in a pocket. (You've heard the stories of how a soldier carrying a Bible in his breast pocket was knocked down in battle, only to find that the bullet that would have killed him was embedded in his Bible. On the other hand, you've never heard of a Bible firing at an intruder or challenging anyone approaching a sentry post.) But no principle of religious liberty or Christian faith requires reading the Bible while on guard duty. Quite the contrary: In several places the Bible exhorts followers of Christ to be faithful watchmen, a status not attained by inattention to duty.

Mr. Ristau needs to learn what it means to serve Caesar faithfully. This, the Lord requires. If he feels obliged to read his Bible while driving to class—he plans to study for the ministry—we trust that a highway patrolman will quickly perceive his—and others'—peril. And if Ristau tells the officer that stopping him is an infringement of his religious liberty—well, we're all for religious freedom, but in this case we would like to hear the officer deliver the time-honored, "Tell it to the judge!"

End of an era

Since 1875, Ocean Grove, New Jersey, has existed as a little conclave of church-state union. Run by 26 trustees who are all United Methodist church men, the town is noted for its Sunday laws, which prohibit even driving an automobile through town on Sunday. Until a recent court decision newspapers could not be delivered in Ocean Grove after midnight Saturday. Now all that is expected to change under impact of a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that in Ocean Grove "government and religion are so inextricably intertwined as to be inseparable," and thus in violation of the First Amendment. It seems unlikely that the United States Supreme Court would reverse the decision.

There is hope, however, for Ocean Grove traditionalists: If the gas situation gets much worse few cars may be on the town's streets any day.

Texas compromise

For six years Fundamentalist Preacher Lester Roloff and Texas officials have tussled over State licensing of three homes Roloff runs for troubled youth. The confrontation sent temperatures over the boiling point last summer when welfare officials seeking to close the homes under court orders were met by hundreds of Roloff supporters who had vowed to prevent a State takeover.

Roloff saw the issue as one of State controls that would violate the religious values taught in his homes, which held some 180 girls and 100 boys. The Texas Department of Human Resources had a number of concerns, ranging from disciplinary practices in the homes to inadequate physical facilities. After the State ordered their closure, hundreds of Roloff supporters, including one hundred clergymen, formed a human chain around the People's Church and the Rebekah Home for Girls at the Roloff headquarters in Corpus Christi. Welfare officials were reluctant to break through the Bible-waving, hymn-singing group.

We're glad they didn't. And that Roloff too was willing to compromise. (He agreed to substantially reduce enrollment and to a modified "conservatorship," that places most of the troubled youth in other institutions.) The very existence of the First Amendment witnesses that church and state rub against each other—with resulting friction—at some points of mutual interest. Welfare and education of children is one such point, with church, state, and parents all having a stake in the child.

Undoubtedly, a case can be made for Roloff—and for the Texas Department of Human Resources. It would be well if people of good will on both sides took satisfaction not only in the compromise itself but in the spirit that motivated it.

Churches' subsidies cut

Things are looking up for British churches. The government's new budget, based on reduced taxes, will cut its subsidy to the church between $800,000 and $1 million annually. And if the result is the same as in the States when the church was disestablished, British churches can expect renewed vitality. Under the British system of covenants, which are not taxable, people agree to pay fixed sums annually to churches and charities. The lower rate of government income is expected to reduce the money flowing to these organizations.

It would be an unseemly spectacle in deed were churchmen now to besiege Parliament to plead for higher subsidies. One remembers the valiant words of Nehemiah, while on his way to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple: "I was ashamed to ask the king for an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against enemies on the way, because we had said to the king, 'The hand of our God is upon all who seek him, working their good' " (Ezra 8:22, N.E.B.).*

Preachers have been taught how to gesture, enunciate, postulate, and other wise communicate. What may be most needed today, by churchmen seeking government aid, is the wholesome ability to blush.

Note:

* From The New English Bible, © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970. Reprinted by permission.

Unless credited otherwise, items in World View are based on information supplied by the Religious News Service.

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Roland Hegstad is editor of Liberty, a magazine concerning religious freedom.

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