The U. S. Supreme Court laid down major new lines of church-state separation last month.
By voiding parochaid legislation in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, the court barred the spending of public funds in sectarian schools, even if the money is used only for instruction in “secular” subjects. The court gave qualified approval, however, to a federal law that subsidizes building construction at religious colleges.
Roman Catholic elementary and secondary schools are expected to be hit hard by the decisions. They have been suffering from a financial pinch, and influential Catholic politicians have been actively working for state aid. Protestant grade schools in the United States, which are rapidly increasing in number, have thus far escaped severe financial pressures, and very few have campaigned for public money.
The Pennsylvania statute, passed in 1968, provided reimbursement to parochial schools for teacher salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials in subjects regarded as non-religious. Some $5 million has been spent annually. The Rhode Island program, limited to teacher salary supplements, began in 1969 with a $375,000 budget.
The Pennsylvania decision was technically unanimous. The only dissent in the Rhode Island case was Justice Byron R. White (who said he would have dissented in the Pennsylvania case as well had it not been for a quirk in the appeal).
The federal law in question was the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963, which so far has paid out $240 million for construction of academic buildings. A number of private, sectarian colleges had benefited. The law was challenged by a group in Connecticut. It was upheld by a 5–4 vote. Justices Warren E. Burger, John M. Harlan, Potter Stewart, Harry A. Blackmun, and Byron White formed the majority. The dissenters were Justices William J. Brennan, Jr., the only Roman Catholic on the court, William O. Douglas, Hugo L. Black, and Thurgood Marshall.
The justices distinguished for the first time between the church-state implications of grade school and of higher education. The majority opinion declared that “there is substance to the contention that college students are less impressionable and less susceptible to religious indoctrination. Common observation would seem to support that view and Congress may well have entertained it. Since religious indoctrination is not a substantial purpose or activity of these church-related colleges and universities, there is less likelihood than in primary and secondary schools that religion will permeate the area of secular education. This reduces the risk that government aid will in fact serve to support religious activities.”
A new line is also represented in the court opinion’s references to “excessive entanglement.” It may mean that the court has tried to put forth a durable verbal vehicle to help differentiate between constitutional and unconstitutional aid to religious enterprises.
Burger said that total separation of church and state “is not possible in an absolute sense.… In order to determine whether the government entanglement with religion is excessive, we must examine the character and purposes of the institutions which are benefited, the nature of the aid that the state provides, and the resulting relationships between the Government and the religious authority.” “Excessive entanglement” is admittedly vague, but it may be the most objective criterion so far devised.
Dr. Glenn L. Archer, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, predictably praised the court decision. It “will no doubt have the effect of nullifying similar parochaid laws which have been passed in Ohio, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Illinois,” he said.
The justices noted that their decisions “have permitted the states to provide church-related schools with secular, neutral or nonideological services, facilities, or materials. Bus transportation, school lunches, public health services and secular textbooks supplied in common to all students were not thought to offend the establishment clause.”
The District Court that handled the Rhode Island case saw parochial schools as “an integral part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church” and “a powerful vehicle for transmitting the Catholic faith to the next generation.” Because of this, legislators provided for considerable government surveillance “to insure that state aid supports only secular education.” But this control feature itself was found by the Supreme Court to constitute an area of excessive entanglement.
The high court added that “a broader base of entanglement of yet a different character is presented by the divisive potential of these state programs. In a community where such a large number of pupils are served by church-related schools, it can be assumed that state assistance will entail considerable political activity.” The justices said that political debate is healthy, “but political division along religious lines was one of the principal evils against which the First Amendment was intended to protect.”
On the same day it handed down its parochaid decisions, the court cleared former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali of refusing induction into military service, saying he was improperly drafted because the Justice Department had misled Selective Service authorities.
Iron Curtain Bibles: Smugglers Too Smug?
The current evangelical passion for smuggling religious materials behind the Iron Curtain sometimes ignores the actual needs of the recipients, according to several European observers.
In some cases materials are sent where they are not needed, and in others, political opinions are included in “gospel” material, critics say.
Dr. Branco Lovrec, publisher of Yugoslavia’s monthly Baptist magazine and other religious materials, explained the situation in his country during a recent interview in Zagreb.
There was, and still is, a law banning importation of materials printed in Macedonian, Croatian, or Slovenian, the languages of Yugoslavia.
In 1952 Yugoslavians needed smuggled materials, but printing restrictions have eased and the need no longer exists. Lovrec says he can print all the religious material that is required, as long as his name and address appear on the title pages. Such material is legal, and those who receive it don’t have to worry about it.
“We don’t welcome literature from abroad for that reason,” Lovrec asserts. The only exception to the rule is Bibles, for which the demand cannot be met by Yugoslav printers. They are legally imported from London and authorized for distribution by imprintation with the Serbian Orthodox Church seal on the title page.
This openness causes Lovrec to declare: “We don’t consider ourselves behind the Iron Curtain. We have no limitations, no problems.”
“Why, then, do America’s largest evangelical smuggling enterprises list Yugoslavia as one of their target nations?” he asks.
“The mission people bring us Bibles and literature and we’re stuck with them,” he says of Yugoslavia. “They go back home and brag, ‘We smuggled 500 Bibles behind the Iron Curtain.…’ They want to be heroes at home, not just to spread the Gospel.”
Lovrec’s work is financially supported by Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta and by Evangelism Center of Glendale, California, better known as Underground Evangelism. The California group pays several thousand dollars monthly for publication of religious materials in Yugoslavia, according to its director, the Reverend L. Joe Bass.
Underground Evangelism also prints material in Italy for smuggling into Yugoslavia despite the apparent freedom to print anything inside Yugoslavia.
“It’s a matter of business economics. If you can print cheaper in Italy and import legally, why not do so?” explains Bass, who declines to comment on the fact that such imports are illegal.
One of the reasons for Bass’s smuggling may be Lovrec’s publishing policy.
“I will not publish just anything pressed upon me by people who come bearing money. There must be a need for it in Yugoslavia,” insists Lovrec. “Underground Evangelism publishes all the details which the Communist governments need to keep the Christians under their thumbs.”
Though he doesn’t say it, Lovrec implies that some of the “gospel” material being prepared for distribution behind the Iron Curtain is as much anti-Communist as it is pro-Christ.
The American smuggling activity is heaping coals of repression upon the heads of believers in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria, according to the Reverend Robert Munn, theology teacher at European Bible Institute in Lamorlaye, France.
“It seems to me that half the motivation of the campaigns is political,” observes Munn.
Similar problems occurred with the gospel radio broadcasting of the Reverend Richard Wurmbrand from a religious shortwave outlet in Monaco.
“We asked why we could no longer hear Reverend Wurmbrand and we were told his political haranguing had caused embarrassment for the station and problems for the Iron Curtain Christians,” reports Dr. Cleon Rogers, acting director of the German Bible Institute at Seeheim, Germany.
The Dutch preacher known as Brother Andrew popularized Bible-smuggling with the 1968 publication of his book God’s Smuggler. He had engaged in smuggling and preaching trips to Warsaw Pact nations since 1952.
He is now an executive of his own smuggling organization. Interviewed in his Netherlands retreat, he said, “I am not anti-Communist nor anti-capitalist. I am pro-Jesus.”
Wcc Put Off
A high-level multiracial delegation of World Council of Churches leaders scheduled to go to South Africa the last week of this month was cut off at the pass when restrictions imposed by South African prime minister John Vorster were declared “totally unacceptable” by the WCC.
The consultation between the WCC and South African churchmen was to have centered on why the WCC made a $200,000 grant last September to African liberation groups charged with using guerrilla tactics in opposing apartheid and white supremacy in that country.
Vorster, a livid critic of the WCC, had said he would permit the delegation into his country so that its fifteen members could be “confronted” on the grant issue by South African churchmen. The South African Council of Churches (a WCC associate member) had invited the council to send a team.
Council general secretary Eugene Carson Blake told a Geneva, Switzerland, press conference last month that Vorster would not permit the WCC delegation “to go farther than the [hotel] … airport nor to stay longer than the actual duration of the ‘confrontation.’ ” Vorster also said he didn’t see why “such a clear-cut issue” should be debated.
Black Anglican bishop Alpheus Zulu of Zululand, a WCC president, was to have led the thirty-member South African group; about a dozen of that delegation were from non-white churches.
Blake, suggesting that since Vorster could not “manipulate the consultation to his own ends,” he had “evidently decided to make it impossible,” said the consultation would be indefinitely postponed.
Christian Reformed Synod: ‘Mirror, Mirror …’
The agenda of the Christian Reformed Church turned its 1971 synod into a mirror. Although the CRC summons its members to self-examination prior to each celebration of Holy Communion, the 148 synodical delegates discovered that self-examination on its top official level isn’t easy.
The ten-day session held in Grand Rapids (June 8–18) was one of the slowest-moving in memory. Looking into the mirror, the synod often saw darkly, and decisive action gave way to postponement and referral to committees.
The synod faced a six-year-old race problem in its Chicago North Classis, which has jurisdiction over the Timothy Christian School Board (see December 4, 1970, issue, page 35). Board members have persistently refused to enroll black Christian Reformed children from the nearby Lawndale section of Chicago in its Cicero school. Fear is the chief reason given for exclusion.
Past synods had judged such refusal as sin, and Chicago North’s failure to act upon synod’s position as bringing it under the judgment of the church. The 1971 synod looked at Chicago North’s substantial failure and continuing refusal to comply and did nothing except give verbal reaffirmation of its official 1968 decision.“That synod declare that fear of persecution or of disadvantage to self or our institutions arising out of obedience to Christ does not warrant denial to anyone, for reasons of race or color, of full Christian fellowship and privilege in the church or in related organizations, such as Christian colleges and schools.”
The synod also looked to itself in deliberating what to do with members who, influenced by neo-Pentecostalism, deny their first (infant) baptism by submitting to a second rite of baptism but do not wish to leave the CRC. Since the Christian Reformed theology of church membership limits excommunication to those judged to have “no part in the kingdom of Christ” and permits membership transfer only to Reformed churches, the synod could make no decision. The matter was referred for long-term study.
A request from one of its Canadian classes that the CRC re-express its faith in a new confession that would replace its current confessions produced a long and serious discussion—to the surprise of many delegates. The CRC is one of the most creedally bound churches in the United States. Yet there was such an urgent desire to be a truly confessing church that a committee was appointed to study the whole matter.
Many delegates felt the church could not adequately speak its faith to the contemporary world through the CRC’s 400-year-old confessions. The decision may be historic.
Rejuvenating The Ucc?
Youth delegates numbered 140 among a field of 700 at the eighth biennial General Synod of the 1.9-million-member United Church of Christ at Grand Rapids, Michigan, last month. Right from the outset they made their presence felt, pushing through amendments at the first session that pointed to Christ as the answer to the “crisis of faith” in the UCC. They urged their church to “wrestle” with the biblical meaning of life and “to become committed to behavior consistent with beliefs.”
Although the statement by the young people—accepted less enthusiastically by their elders—smacked of old-fashioned religion, the proposed applications to modern life were far from conservative.
Dealing with the issue of “Peace and United States Power” the synod favored: support for “indigenous liberation movements throughout the world which oppose elitist oppression or totalitarian subversion”; diplomatic relations with Red China and her admission to the United Nations; amnesty and church support for draft evaders; and withdrawal of U. S. economic aid to Pakistan.
The UCC became the first major denomination to act on the controversial Pentagon papers. By a vote of 614–23 the delegates said the papers show that the American people were deceived by government officials and that war aims and strategies in Indochina are “cruel” and “unjust” and must therefore be condemned by Christians. Delegates also called the U. S. “Vietnamization” program immoral, and they requested President Nixon to end the Indochina conflict “within the next six to nine months.”
In a showdown between the UCC’s social-action and foreign-missions units on the subject of U. S. business operations in southern Africa, the UCC voted not to ask Gulf Oil Company and other firms to withdraw but to ask that they use their influences to help “liberate” the African countries from minority and colonial rule. The UCC stance was bitterly contested by social-action leaders who have especially opposed Gulf’s alleged support of Portuguese control over Angola. Missions spokesmen argued successfully that American interests would simply be taken over by other industrialized nations, a point emphasized by Gulf executives in preconvention hearings.
One measure asked UCC leaders to probe attitudes of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America toward apartheid practices of their sister churches in South Africa.
Delegates were unmoved by Wisconsin layman John Esch’s charges that they were hypocritical for judging Portugal and South Africa by name while refusing to similarly denounce North Viet Nam and Russia for their roles in global unrest.
In the area of women’s liberation the synod adopted a substitute motion that called for “repeal of all legal prohibitions of physician-performed abortions” and asked that more room be made for women in UCC pastorates and other leadership offices.
UCC blacks were given a piece of the action but not as much as they had wanted. Instead of a campaign for $10 million and establishment of a black university, delegates decided to let the UCC Executive Council launch a “major campaign” (no amount specified) and to negotiate loans up to $3 million for black students in the next two years.
The youth caucus backed out of a move to ask for legal defense funds for Angela Davis and other “political prisoners” in the United States. Instead the young people supported an easily passed statement simply endorsing Miss Davis’s right to a fair trial. A youth spokesman said Miss Davis had more than enough money already for her trial. The Davis family’s pastor, Andrew L. Cooper of a Birmingham, Alabama, UCC church, argued for UCC support.
A North Dakota Indian rancher, August Little Soldier, became the first Indian to serve on the UCC Executive Council. David Colwell, a Seattle minister, was elected moderator. Although last year’s income was down $500,000 to $16.9 million, an optimistic budget of $17.7 million was proposed for each of the next two years.
A bylaw change ensures that at least 20 per cent of future UCC delegates will be young people. In the convention’s final moments, the youths led the way in defeating a measure that would disqualify UCC top leadership after age 65. Said one young delegate: “Youth is a matter of spirit, not age.” Everyone applauded.
EDWARD E. PLOWMAN
Computerizing Sampson: When Push Comes To Shove
Four professors at Kansas State University, assisted by an electronic computer and an engineering equation, say they have “proven” the plausibility of the biblical record of Samson’s destruction of the Philistine temple.
Mechanical-engineering professor Wilson Tripp first struggled with the reliability of the text when he audited a course in English Bible. “Then it came to me that perhaps the grandstands in the Samson story had two main, slender wooden columns that bowed under because of the weight of the people on the roof,” relates Tripp. “As long as the crossbrace was in place, it prevented buckling. Samson knew if he got between and pushed outward the pillars would bow the other way and break.”
So Tripp enlisted English professor Dale B. Jones and two other faculty members to test his theory. Architecture and design professor Alden Krider served as artist for the model, depicted as the grandstand of a ballpark rather than the traditional temple.
“There was a tendency for Hebrew writers to call any large, important building a temple,” noted Jones. The profs estimated that the 3,000 Philistines on the roof put a load of 246,082 pounds on each column. The pillars were envisioned as twelve inches by twelve inches and thirty feet long, crossbraced in the middle, and bowed inward one and one-half inches.
Using Euler’s Buckling Load Formula, the men then fed the calculations into a CDC 6400 computer, using an interactive time-sharing device. Results showed that Samson would have had to push 917.57 pounds. K-State weight lifters assured them that one could push 600 pounds. And Tripp theorized: “Persons under emotional stress sometimes do things they can’t normally do. This is evidently what happened.”
JAMES S. TINNEY
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more