What is the underlying issue in the current debate on church-state relationship in this country? It is not, though it sometimes is made to sound that way, between those who believe in a state church and those who do not. The first amendment settled that. It is rather over what the first amendment means. The two positions which have developed are the historic interpretation and a new interpretation which is still somewhat fluid. The historic interpretation is that our government recognizes the existence of God and is favorable to the cause of religion generally. The new interpretation asserts that our government is entirely neutral, that it is neither for nor against religion.
The Issues Before Us
Let us look at the scene in the United States to see if we have correctly stated the issue that our people and our courts are trying to solve. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a general prayer composed by officials of the public school system in New York State, and recited with their approval. When President Kennedy was asked in his press conference for his reaction, he replied, “We can pray a good deal more at home and attend our churches.” This was excellent advice, but it does not deal with our problem. People in Russia can also pray at home and in their churches. Francis B. Sayre, dean of Washington Cathedral, said, “I thought President Kennedy missed the point when he advised us to pray at home, for this nourishes only our private lives as individuals, but what of our corporate life as a nation?”
Now this seems to highlight the question: Does our government as a government have any religious quality? It has had such a quality in the past. The assertion that it now does not is a novel theory, and the ...1
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