Communication to the Editor:
I read with much interest Mr. Louis Marshall’s letter in your columns as to there being no religious issue involved in this campaign. Commonly. I find myself in full agreement with that distinguished leader, but in this instance he has, in my opinion, overlooked the chief factors involved, as also most important precedents. The vigorous language used by the first leaders of the Republican party, Lincoln and Fremont, in disapproval of similar intolerance, has been published lately in the daily press, and is very much in point, when, as never before in our history, the fundamental American principle of separation of Church and State is jeopardized by outrageous attacks on Gov. Smith’s candidacy because of his Catholic faith, and even thousands of churches in the land lend their aid towards defeating him, because of his views on prohibition. I fully agree with Prof. Henry Van Dyke’s published letter of a month ago, that this constitutes the chief issue in this campaign, and events that have occurred since he wrote, strikingly re-inforce his contention. John W. Davis’ recent able address is of similar tenor.
Despite Mr. Hoover’s own clear and forcibly expressed abhorrence of attacks on his adversary because of his religion, leaders of his organization who have his confidence violate this principle with impunity on his behalf in wholesale and shocking fashion. Abhorrence at a Burchard’s “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” elected Grover Cleveland president, but does this incident compare for a moment with the action of Assistant Attorney General Willebrandt in urging, in a Methodist Church Convention in Ohio, that all present should work to have all the Methodists in Ohio and throughout the Union vote against Gov. Smith, because of his views on prohibition! Mrs. Willebrandt is one of Mr. Hoover’s closest friends and most influential lieutenants, and this prostitution of the churches has not been disapproved of by Mr. Hoover, but, on the contrary, has been approved of by the Republican National Committee Speakers’ Bureau.
Scarcely had Gov. Smith’s own vigorous denunciation of the incident ended, when Herod was out-heroded by the public announcement of the National Anti-Saloon League that on the following Sunday, leaflets expressly urging worshippers to vote against him were to be distributed in 20,000 to 30,000 affiliated churches in the land! Organized bodies of Baptist ministers have done the same thing, and also the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of the country, though the latter incident has aroused vigorous protests from Prof. Coffin of the Union Theological Seminary and Henry W. Jessup, both Presbyterian Republicans. The latter even announced that he thinks charges should be brought against the Moderator for conduct unbecoming a clergyman and a moderator, and he almost feels tempted in reaction “to vote for honest Al.”
I lay much more stress on these large-scaled, approved, insidious efforts to turn prohibition into a politico-religious issue, to be taken up in the churches of the land; than on the humbler, publicly disavowed efforts of individual Republican leaders and occasional Democratic bigots, who boldly and openly urge voters to turn against Gov. Smith, because he is a Catholic. They are, in fact, but different phases of the same reckless, disgraceful efforts, to turn the churches of the land into partisan political agencies, in violation of the principle of separation of Church and State.
There are religious questions which on rare occasions may properly be taken up in the churches, though they may conceivably be the subject matter of partisan political strife at the time, but prohibition, unlike temperance, is not one of them! In the light of the fact that an enormous majority of the American people does not regard prohibition as a religious issue, whether they approve or disapprove of it, these fanatics cannot make it so! I assume that Mrs. Willebrandt and her friends of the Anti-Saloon League and the others referred to are sincere fanatics, in believing it to be a religious question, which can properly be reached through the churches, but it has been well said that fanatics have been more dangerous and detrimental to civilization than knaves: If a fanatcal minority can make prohibition a religious issue, in which the churches are to diciate how their communicants are to vote, what will be the next political issue to be settled by, and in, the churches?
That the sincere mistaken view of fanatics that religion demands or sanctions certain courses of conduct, cannot justify their actions, has been emphatically decided even in our courts of law in cases dealing with the one-time polygamous practices of the Mormons, (in the leading case involving religious liberty. Reynolds vs. U S. 98. U.S. 145). and the Christian Scientists’ failure to provide medical attendance for their sick infant children.
So zealous were the fathers of the republic in their efforts to prevent church meddling in partisan politics that by express constitutional provisions in Delaware, Georgia, Maryland and New York, clergymen were even ineligible to hold political office Jefferson strongly favored such probilitions, but later changed his views and wrote in 18):
“After seventeen years of experience and reflection I do not approve. . . the incapacitation of a clergyman from being elected. The clergy, by getting themselves established by law, and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man. They are still so in many countries and even in some of the United States. Even in 1783 we doubted the stability of our recent measures for reducing them to the footing of other useful callings. It now appears that our means were effectual. The clergy here seem to have relinquished all pretension to privilege and to stand on a footing with lawyers, physicians, etc. They ought therefore to possess the same rights.”
Such unprecedented combinations of clergy and churches for partisan political purposes, however, as are here involved, fall clearly within the ban. In the famous U. S. Senate report on Sunday mail, drafted by Col. Richard M, Johnson of Kentucky in 1829, one of the ablest expositions of our American principle of Separation of Church and State, it is admirably said: “The petitioners for its (the Sunday transmission of mail) discontinuance appear to be actuated from a religious zeal, which may be commendable if confined to its proper sphere; but they assume a position better suited to an ecclesiastical, than to a civil, institution. They appear in many instances, to lay it down as an axiom, that the practice is a violation of the law of God. . . If this principle is once introduced it will be impossible to define its bounds. Among all the religions persecutions with which almost every page of modern history is stained, no victim ever suffered, but for the violation of what government denominated the law of God. . . Extensive religious combinations to effect a political object, are in the opinion of the committee always dangerous. . . All religious despotism commences by combination and influence; and when that influence begins to operate upon the political institutions of a country. the civil power soon bends under it” (Quoted from “Selected Addresses and Pancers of Simon Wolf.” edited by me, on. 16-4.)
It is rather remarkable that in the controversy between Gov. Smith and Charles C. Marshall concerning the attitude of the Catholic Church towards our American principle of Sepparation of Church and State, neither pointed out that there are two wings in the Catholic Church, regarded as an entity having Communicants abroad and in America, with differing views on this subject. one of which was led by men like Bishon England. Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop Ireland and Father Duffy, to which Gov. Smith belongs, and another more conservative one, Ted by priests born as well as educated abroad, who have not yet imbibed the American principle. The views of this former wing were ably expounded by Cardinal Gibbons many years ago in writing on “The Church and the Republic,” as follows: American Catholics rejoice in our Separation of Church and State, and I can conceive of no combination of circumstances likely to arise which should make a union desirable either to Church or State.”
A strong argument could be advanced that as Gov. Smith contends, the real religious issue involved is the promotion of law-abidingness, which can only be accomplished by a repeal of the Volstead Act and a modification of the 18th Amendment, so inseparably conducive to lawlessness have those measures become among all classes and ages. In fact, a great Jewish sage taught us nearly a thousand years ago that “the law of the country is the law of God!” Oct. 19. 1928 Max J. Kohler