To the Editor:
My colleague Milton Himmelfarb’s article, “Church and State: How High a Wall?” [July], requires a brief comment from me. As director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Civil Rights and Social Action, and its General Counsel, I have professional responsibility for the agency’s program in the church-state area, As such, I found myself in violent disagreement with my colleague’s views concerning the necessity and desirability of a wall of separation between church and state.
I now find that many people are under the impression that Mr. Himmelfarb expressed the position of the American Jewish Committee in this field. I want to correct that impression. Mr. Himmelfarb, as is his right, speaks for himself; since I respect him highly, I would not have it otherwise. But the American Jewish Committee has for many years openly endorsed, and I trust will continue to endorse, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which prohibits the establishment of religion and protects religious liberty:
No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice-versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between Church and State.” (Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, at p. 15.)
The AJC has supported this Jeffersonian doctrine, which has served the nation well, until non-separationists recently sought mischievously to hack away at the wall—as vandals would at a sacred place.
Meanwhile, in pursuance of the wisdom—indeed, the historic necessity—of maintaining the wall, AJC has filed amicus briefs in the Prayer and Bible reading cases; we have opposed Senator Dirksen’s attempt to permit prayer in public schools; and we have, among other things, opposed grants or loans of revenue funds by government agencies to sectarian institutions.
This, I hope, sets the record straight.
Edwin J. Lukas
Department of Civil Rights and Social Action
American Jewish Committee
New York City
To the Editor:
My friend Milton Himmelfarb misses the major point of what I said in my Reporter article.
I did not argue there, and I am not arguing now, that radio and television stations should not—merely because they are licensed by the federal government—carry religious programs. Quite the contrary. I think they should and I also believe that everyone who has an interest in such programs can and should use every technique of persuasion to see that such programs are carried.
The mere fact that the FCC would not, if it observed the constitutional mandate of the First Amendment, become involved in the promotion of religion does not mean, as Himmelfarb argues, that it would “be promoting the separation of religion and society.” It would leave the subject of whether or not radio or television stations broadcast religious programming where it should be: with those of us who watch and listen to these media. And the net result would depend upon the intensity of the feelings of those who want the media to carry such programs.
I emphasize this point because it was not my intention to advocate a non- or anti-religious thesis. I believe that religion is an integral part of the culture of Western civilization, but I feel equally strongly that government should not be religion’s counselor.
Himmelfarb argues that “if the principle [of my thesis] were followed, the FCC would not be protecting the separation of church and state . . . [but would] be promoting the separation of religion and society—something else again.”
The FCC, following the mandate of the Communications Act does, in fact, prohibit a number of programs—those, for example, which are either obscene or contain lotteries. It also affirmatively advocates and encourages—all within the framework of the Constitution and the Communications Act—the presentation of discussion and educational programs. The reason the FCC is free to prohibit or foster these kinds of programs is because there are no constitutional restrictions which inhibit or limit those activities. There is, however, a constitutional sanction which prohibits it from encouraging the broadcast of religious programs and then proceeding to evaluate their quality and quantity.
To the Editor:
. . . Mr. Himmelfarb’s not too serious distress about the growing tendency for public schools to be replaced by those divided along socio-economic lines, and his willingness to see the process further accelerated by the government . . . along religious lines, cannot but be feared by those of us who seek a truly pluralistic society with a maximum of interaction among various groups.
The suggestion that lessons may be drawn about how to conduct the church-state relations of a highly competitive, religiously divided society from an almost totally homogeneous Scandinavian society is simply false and irrelevant.
That things get better and better may still not be clear either to the Jehovah’s Witnesses we regularly send to jail for their principles . . . or to the parents of the Amish children that Mr. Himmelfarb cited in his article. About both these groups, it seems apparent to me that we “radical separatists” . . . would take the position that the problem is too little separation, not too much; i.e., separation is a two-way street—not only must the state be free of church influence—but it must also learn that where the religious scruples of groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Amish are concerned, . . . other social “goods” (e.g. cooperation with the state, and the state’s view of what is the best education) will have to bow.
By increasing the potential for conscientious dissent, the wall of separation between church and state increases the potential for freedom and democracy in this country. It is only those who believe that the government is incapable . . . of interfering with conscience who believe the reverse. I do not believe history or logic supports the latter position.
Lawrence K. Karlton
To the Editor:
Mr. Himmelfarb attributes the dominant Jewish attitude to an ideological commitment to the doctrine of separationism. But this is a false issue: most Jews do not object at all, for example, to the state churches of England and Scandinavia, but do object strenuously to government aid to American parochial schools. The reason for this lies in the Roman Catholic character of the latter; for most Jews, the Church of Rome has always been the principal enemy, not only of the Jewish people, but also of liberalism in general. . . .
Furthermore, Mr. Himmelfarb’s implication that education, any education, reduces anti-Semitism is erroneous in the light of the German and Russian experiences.
New Haven, Connecticut
To the Editor:
Milton Himmelfarb . . . dismisses current opposition to federal aid for non-public schools by oversimplifying the reasons behind it. . . . They have little to do with religion, but much to do with race.
It is common knowledge that non-public schools, in the North no less than in the South, are being used increasingly as a hedge against integrated education. Federal subsidy of non-public schools (whether religious or non-sectarian) points toward the creation of two separate tax-supported school systems—one primarily for the white and privileged, the other largely for the non-white and deprived.
If citizens wish to use (or, as often happens, actually establish) private schools to protect their white children from the company of black children, that is unfortunately their privilege. But for the federal government to subsidize such racial exclusivity by supporting it with public funds is tantamount to congressional and Presidential repeal of the Supreme Court ruling against segregation.
It is not today’s opponents of tax-supported private schools who are indulging in “incantatory repetition of dogma”; it is writers like Mr. Himmelfarb who write about the problem within an obsolete frame of reference that predates the Warren Court and Vatican II. . . .
It is hardly a secret that in cities like New York, the vast majority of Negro children attend the public schools, not the yeshivas, not the Catholic parochial schools, and not the non-sectarian private schools whose scholarships for “high-achieving” students help the children who need help least.
If the federal government has money to spare for education, let that money go to the children condemned by our society to the public “neighborhood schools” of our great urban ghettos. Let’s use that money for integrated quality education in the public schools, not for tax-supported segregation in the private ones. And let’s not becloud the issue by belaboring the pros and cons of the “wall of separation” between church and state. The issue today is the wall of separation that our tax money is setting up between white children and black ones.
New York City
To the Editor:
Mr. Himmelfarb does not seem concerned that the public schools are forced to submit to control and ownership by the citizenry, and the watchdog behavior of our locally elected school boards, whereas private schools know of no such community relationship. . . . Would Mr. Himmelfarb at least insist on local community control of tax money donated to a private school? Such a fundamental question should never have been left out of his article.
(Dr.) Gerson Jacobs
San Rafael, California
To the Editor:
It is regrettable that Mr. Himmelfarb did not examine the results of his proposals in those countries where the wall between church and state—in the educational area, at least—has been seriously breached. The prime examples are Canada and The Netherlands. The Dutch have three publicly-supported school systems; one run by the Protestants, one by the Catholics, and one by the state. Only 20 per cent of the Dutch attend public schools. This system has had the effect of driving the two major religions further apart and has intensified, rather than diminished, religious antagonism. The recent furor over the marriage of a princess of the House of Orange to a Spanish Catholic and her subsequent conversion is a case in point.
Canada has a mixed system; partly Protestant in the prairie provinces, mostly Catholic in Quebec. The dismal failure to build a unifying Canadian nationalism or even reduce religious and ethnic tension needs no comment. . . .
Again, Mr. Himmelfarb is naive in his discussion of the democratic results achieved by the school systems of monarchies with state churches. Great Britain, Scandinavia, and the Benelux countries are essentially liberal-democratic capitalist states, where valid progressive and humane results have been secured despite the union of throne and altar which survives only as a vestigial remnant of feudalism. Where the latter forces have had real power, their influence on education has been baneful.
It is ironic that a nation which is just emerging from a racially-segregated school system should be arguing its reestablishment on a religious basis. Those middle-class parents who have unspoken hopes of sidestepping school integration by this means would do well to reflect on the effects of such a system upon minority groups.
The school system in a pluralistic society must solve the problem of unity-in-diversity. It must preserve an even balance between divergent ethnic groups and at the same time present an aspiration, an ideal, a mythology, if you like, . . . to which all can adhere. The public school system is the chief social device by which society both preserves divergence and attenuates differences. Those communities which have neglected this principle have been riven and corroded by the very differences they have sought to “equalize” by public subsidy. . . .
To the Editor:
In making the point that “24-karat separationism” between church and state can hinder the progress of “a humane, liberal democracy,” Milton Himmelfarb weakens his argument by resorting to a discussion of the constitutional provision of separation in the Soviet Union as an example.
He writes: “The Soviet Union is the most secularist society in what used to be Christendom. . . . In that most secularist society, separationism has gone so far as to become persecution of religion.”
The author knows the facts, but he has reversed them. The “fathers” of the Soviet constitution were hellbent on the elimination of all religion—religious institutions, beliefs, and rituals—right from the beginning. Lenin and others determined that one way of reaching this goal was to separate religious institutions, especially the Orthodox Church, which was closely linked with secular power during the reign of the Tsars. The state could then turn around and pounce on the religious institutions from which it had totally separated itself.
“Separation” of church and state is really a misnomer in relation to the Soviet Union. “Alienation” of church by state, from the start, is much more accurate. The Soviet government did not build a wall to prevent secular and political incursion into religious affairs. It built a fortress from which it could bombard and destroy religion.
(Rabbi) Jack D. Spiro
Barnegat Light, N.J.
To the Editor:
Milton Himmelfarb’s blast at church-state separatism rests on several arguments of dubious validity. Arguing that pluralism is essential for freedom, and must be fostered to be preserved, he advocates federal subsidy of activities traditionally financed privately. This, however, would lead to results directly opposed to those he intends.
It is hard to imagine allocation of federal funds without controls following soon after. Like everyone else, the government reasonably expects, when it pays, to see that it “gets its money’s worth.” Pluralism is therefore helped best by limiting the expansion of government to activities where it is really essential, which would rule out federal aid to parochial schools, federal subsidy of the arts, etc. The expectation that a benign government will encourage potential opposition and even finance it, is naive and unrealistic; as civil-rights and community organizations have learned recently, federal subsidy is often used as a means for undermining autonomous groups (the story of Project Head Start in Mississippi is a good example).
The financial problems of parochial schools may well be serious but it should be possible to deal with these short of direct subsidy. Many schemes are possible, including shared time . . . or an after-school arrangement, patterned after that of the American Hebrew school; tax credits or even scholarships are also possibilities, and by no means the same thing as direct subsidies to the school. . . .
Finally, Mr. Himmelfarb’s failure to mention Israel as an example of a secular society with close ties between church and state, and one not noted for freedom of religion, is indeed curious, though hardly surprising.
David F. Greenberg
Department of Physics
University of Chicago
To the Editor:
. . . With a tax-supported Catholic school system and, of course, a tax-supported Jewish school system, and quite probably a tax-supported Episcopalian-Methodist-Presbyterian-Church-of-Christ-Jehovah’s-Witnesses school system, and most certainly a tax-supported Southern-Baptist school system, the problem of racially integrated schools remains right where it belongs—in the laps of Others. . . .
To the Editor:
. . . After years of frustrations ending with ultimate victory in the Supreme Court, followed by attempts to revise the First Amendment, the latest of which is the current Dirksen amendment, Mr. Himmelfarb urges a new look, suggesting that those who support separation of church and state are doctrinaire. One may well wonder where he has been all these years—certainly he has been insulated from the problems his own organization, the American Jewish Committee, has dealt with.
In the files of the AJC is a tape recording of a seminar with teenage Jewish children in Essex County, New Jersey on this subject. Many of them . . . admitted that the various religious practices in the schools had tempted them to conversion at one time or another. Indeed, some of them have subsequently left the faith. This pattern is countrywide. Perhaps Mr. Himmelfarb’s views would have been different if he had to deal with the questions that were consistently brought to us: the problem of Johnny’s being given the lead role in the Christmas play; of Johnny’s unwillingness (or willingness) to say the Lord’s Prayer (prior to the Supreme Court decision); of the girl who was dismissed from the glee club because she wouldn’t sing a religious song; of the Jewish teacher who refused to lead a religious exercise, and so on and on. Perhaps Mr. Himmelfarb forgets that we are here today because the Pilgrims left England rather than allow the Book of Common Prayer to be imposed upon their children in the schools. (Indeed, notwithstanding Mr. Himmelfarb’s assertion that religious freedom in Great Britain “is closer to being most secure . . . than least secure,” the situation of Jewish children in British schools, particularly as regards the matter of getting into “good” schools, still important in England, happens to be quite shocking.)
The tone of the article is also disturbing. Mr. Himmelfarb’s attempt to link those who opposed the aid-to-education bills because of church-state objections with reactionaries and racists is out of line, . . . as is his attempt to equate the opposition of aid to religious schools with “hard-heartedness” and lack of humanity. Perhaps he has forgotten what has happened, historically, to the Jews whenever the state has become involved in religion. Perhaps he feels it can’t happen here, or perhaps he is not as concerned about the preservation of Judaism as the rest of us are, but it is unjust to say, as he does, that “even in America, separatism is potentially tyrannical.” . . .
Finally, I found it particularly unfair of Mr. Himmelfarb to cite the remark made by our deceased colleague, the late Theodore Leskes, on the subject of military chaplains in such a way as to suggest that Ted Leskes’s lack of objection in this case meant that he took exception to the principle of separation. The providing of military chaplains for those who wish them, and who would otherwise be without religious facilities, is clearly not a religious imposition on an entire group, as classroom participation in prayer clearly is. . . . Appearing on television August 9th, Edwin J. Lukas, the able counsel for the American Jewish Committee, in speaking of his organization’s opposition to the Dirksen amendment cited the subtle social pressures of the classroom which lead the children to feel themselves coerced into participation in prayers. . . . Mr. Himmelfarb may think this is “rhetoric” but the traumatic experiences to children are real and the consequence to Judaism critical. For Jews as Jews this may well be the most serious issue of our time.
John M. Kaufman
Newark, New Jersey
[In a forthcoming issue of COMMENTARY, we will publish a “Controversy” on the subject of Mr. Himmelfarb's article. At that time, Mr. Himmelfarb will reply to all of his critics.]