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The current wall of separation between Church and State in America is 1) contrary to the Founding Fathers' intentions, 2) the result of illogical and narrow-minded Supreme Court decisions, 3) a tissue of contradictions, and 4) oppressive and unhealthy for the country as a whole. So argues lawyer and legal popularizer Goldberg, often persuasively. Goldberg's central point is that there is no intrinsic conflict between the First Amendment's prohibition against any ""establishment of religion"" and its encouraging ""the free exercise thereof."" Both clauses aim at protecting the freedom to practice one's faith, and radical tension between them arises only when the establishment clause is interpreted in quasi-absolute terms, as it was in Justice Hugo Black's fateful opinion (writing for the majority in Everson v. Bd. of Ed. of Ewing Township, 1947) that no government, state or federal, could pass laws aiding religion, even if all religions were aided equally. This was nonsense, if for no other reason than that the government always has supported religious groups, and doubtless always will, through massive tax exemptions. Attempts to draw fine lines demarcating Church and State have generally led to juridical folly, and Goldberg has a field day with them. (E.g., Chief Justice Warren Burger's 1971 criteria according to which state aid to religion was constitutional if it had a secular purpose, if its ""primary effect"" was religiously neutral, and if it didn't cause ""excessive government entanglement""--a nearly meaningless formulation.) But while Goldberg's case for more ""free exercise"" is sane and non-threatening, he underestimates the damage this might do to public education (through a tuition voucher system, for example). He would require private schools to meet civil rights standards, but surely that would not impede the proliferation of lily-white, or nearly so, ""Christian academies."" And finally Goldberg is naive if he thinks a more believer-friendly Court (a certainty if Reagan is re-elected) can do very much to ""reconsecrate"" America. Still, this robust editorial carries a good deal of weight--and for most conservatives and religious educators, it should prove a bonanza.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Eerdmans