Religion and the Law of Church and State and the Supreme Court

Religion and the Law of Church and State and the Supreme Court

Religion and the Law of Church and State and the Supreme Court

Religion and the Law of Church and State and the Supreme Court

Excerpt

The election of a Catholic as President of the United States and the excitement over the proposed national aid-to-education bills have raised the debate over the proper relationship between church and state, God and Caesar, religion and law, to an unprecedented crescendo in this country.

The subject is hardly a new one. Probably in prehistoric times, as among primitive peoples today, frequent power conflicts arose between the medicine man and the chief. Certainly the problem was known to the Greeks and the Romans, though merger of the contestants frequently muted the issues. It provided the dominant theme for six hundred years of European history. The very slow development of the notion of religious toleration and the absence of any notion of separation of church and state in the English speaking world outside of America, both before and after the American Revolution, amply demonstrate the continued vitality of the problem, with dimensions until now unknown in America. Thus, for example, it may surprise some that, by law, religious qualifications for public office in England continued late into the nineteenth century. And perhaps equally disquieting is the fact that the ultimate arbiter of Anglican church doctrine is, even today, not any ecclesiastical authority but the English Parliament, most of whose members are not actively affiliated with the Anglican church.

However hoary the problem, it is livelier than ever in the United States today. Federal aid to Catholic schools has become the essential issue on which many Congressional elections may turn: in the cities of the Northeast, the newly-formed Citizens Party, joined with a group called "Citizens for Educational Freedom," threatens to unseat or defeat any candidate who is not prepared to pledge himself to support federal contributions to parochial schools. Several congressmen have recently introduced a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would require recognition of "the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Saviour and ruler of nations, through . . .

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