The Mission against California's Missions

By Sears, Alan | National Catholic Reporter, February 25, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Mission against California's Missions


Sears, Alan, National Catholic Reporter


A road along the California coastline that stretches all the way from San Diego to Sonoma is lauded for being one of the most scenic drives in North America. But long before the Pacific Coast Highway became a thoroughfare bearing scores of cars every day, it was a trail beaten into a path by the bare feet of Native Americans and the horses and carts of Franciscan friars from Spain.

They walked, rode and drove all that distance between 1769 and 1823 for just one purpose--to advance the Kingdom of God by spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the Native Americans. The trail known as El Camino Real--the King's Highway--eventually was dotted with 21 Spanish missions that provided food, shelter and education for the Native Americans who became Christians. And in that process, the Spanish gave us more than just the basis for a great highway; they gave us the basis of a culture that's as fundamental to American life as what the Pilgrims did on the East Coast more than a century earlier.

But today those foundations are under attack by a handful of organizations led by Americans United for Separation of Church and State that apparently have no sense of our nation's history or its purpose. The organization is challenging a bill passed by Congress Nov. 17 that allocates a matching gift of up to $10 million to the California Missions Foundation to refurbish the missions, which are crumbling with age and cracked by earthquakes.

The reason for this, according to the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is that "the First Amendment protects taxpayers from having to support religion, and the California missions bill blatantly violates that principle." Of course, the organization makes no similar objections to public funding being used to acquire or renovate secular historical property or to government officials who pay lawyers to deny people of faith equal access to public property.

What Americans United for Separation of Church and State and their cohorts at People For the American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union have lost sight of is the fact that the "separation of church and state" was given to us by the separatists who landed at Plymouth Rock in November 1620--the people who came here first and foremost "to bring glory to God," as the Mayflower Compact says. …

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