Re: Church and State

From: John W Burgeson <>
Date: Thu May 13 2004 - 10:35:13 EDT

David writes: "I'm dubious of the equating of Bush's and the ayatollahs'

Equating is probably too strong. I think the columnist was making a
comparison. Perhaps more rhetoric than necessary.

I think it is apparent that Bush is a Christian who fervently believes he
is "on a mission." For that, I am glad. But I am, as is the columnist,
terribly afraid that he regards himself, because he "is on God's side,"
to be beyond error.

He is not.

David continues: "Some local atheists evidently regard public
participation in religious activities by government officials as too
ostentatious, based on the protest on the National Day of Prayer. Such
efforts to exclude faith from the public sphere are attacks on the free
speech and free assembly of religious people."

Even "local atheists" are entitled to free speech of course. As are
gov't officials, religious or not. That debate needs to be joined on that
basis. Replying to the "local atheists" that "this is a Christian nation"
is p-poor tactics, IMHO.

"Certainly state churches are often empty churches, and forced
participation is a doubtful way to promote faith."

Doubtful? I would say absolutely counter-productive.

"However, to take a current issue, both mandating and banning the Pledge
of Allegiance are impositions of a particular view."

Too easy a statement of the issue, IMHO. The pledge and the saluting of
the flag issues are intertwined, of course. The issue is that the student
who is being coerced is in a state-mandated position -- he or she cannot
opt out of gong to school -- and therefore what the state can force him
or her to do, particularly in matters of belief, is severely limited. Or
should be.

A little history: (An expanded version of this, including the 1935
letter, is at and another cut at it is

On Oct 22, 1935, William (Billy) Gobitas (not Gobitis), 10, refused to
salute the flag with the rest of his primary school class. The next
morning, his sister Lillian, 12, followed his lead.

On November 6, 1935, the two children were expelled. The Watchtower sued
on behalf of their father, Walter, who was put in the position of having
to pay for private schooling.

Billy Gobitas grew up to be an insurance executive and piano tuner. He
died in 1989 at age 64. Lillian married a Mr. Klose; no record of her
death (as of 10/6/01).

The children and their father prevailed in the first two courts; the
school appealed to SCOTUS. Both the ACLU and the ABA testified on behalf
of the Gobitas children. But an 8-1 decision against the children and
their father was issued by SCOTUS on June 3, 1940. NEWSWEEK noted the
decision in the June 10, 1940 issue with a brief note that said:
"Adjourning on a patriotic note, the court ... ."

The mood of the country was despondent. Georgia had suspended most rights
of non-citizens. NEWSWEEK, 5/27/40, editorialized "Don't know who is
going to win (the war)," and on 6/3/40 posed the question "Suppose the
Allies are defeated?" The National Review was even more pessimistic,
writing about the same time that "Likely the Allies will lose." Poland,
invaded Sept 1, 1939, had surrendered 26 days later. Finland lasted
longer, from the war declaration Nov 30, 1939 until the following March
12th. France, invaded on May 10th, would fall to the Nazis on June 22nd,
and had transformed itself into a virtual dictatorship on March 18th;
Denmark, Belgium, Norway, and the Netherlands were under attack, and
would fall before the end of June. Dunkirk was on June 5th, Italy would
join the Axis on June 10th and Paris would fall four days later. It was
assumed that England would be invaded and, most likely, conquered. Plans
were in place to bring as many English children to the USA as possible.

The National Review, on June 17th, noted the decision, commenting that
"too much was going on - discuss later." In their June 24th issue,
however, they wrote that SCOTUS was a victim of hysteria; the decision
was clearly wrong, reprinting the full decision and dissent. A reader
commented in the July 15th issue that the decision was worse than Dred

Bad days followed. On June 16th, the Attorney-General of the USA went on
the NBC radio network, nationally, to call on American citizens to stop
their persecution of JWs. Eleanor Roosevelt likewise asked the American
public for rationality and civility. These appeals were not very
effective. Hundreds were abused, bullied, beat up, and, in one case, one
man was castrated by a mob of "patriotic citizens."

It was not long before some of the SCOTUS justices publicly spoke of
their poor decision. It would take three years, though, before the wrong
was made right. In 1943, in West Virginia State Board of Education v.
Barnette, SCOTUS reversed the Gobitis decision on a 6-3 vote.


Ubi Caritas

The best thing to hit the Internet in years - Juno SpeedBand!
Surf the Web up to FIVE TIMES FASTER!
Only $14.95/ month - visit to sign up today!
Received on Thu May 13 10:38:11 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu May 13 2004 - 10:38:12 EDT