A crumbling wall between CHURCH and STATE?
''History tells me that persecution comes, generally, not from bad people trying to make other people bad, but from good people trying to make other people good. And ironic it would be if we lose our freedom at last, not to leftists tossing bombs, but to Christians espousing slogans.'' (Roland Hegstad, editor of the Seventh-Day Adventist magazine Liberty, quoted in Church and State , official publication of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 1980)Skip to next paragraph
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Alan Turner is perplexed. He is caught in a dilemma between two things he deeply loves--his church and his nation. Mr. Turner, a strapping former law enforcement officer, now serves as a Christian minister in Louisville, Ky.
As one who has served both church and state, he says he views with concern the growing confrontation between fundamentalists of the so-called New Right and those who support the constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state.
The Rev. Mr. Turner terms himself a ''creationist''--a devotee of the Bible and a believer in the nonmaterial origins of the universe. But, he says, he doesn't want his two preteen-aged children--who attend public school--to be taught creationism in the classroom.
''Why should my child be taught the Bible by a public-school teacher?'' he asks.
At the same time, he balks at the theory of evolution being taught in the schools. ''I also don't want my child to be taught a philosophy foreign to that which he gets at home,'' he explains.
The Louisville preacher, a staunch defender of religious values, says he readily acknowledges the need for the Constitution to keep government and church apart. But he adds that his spiritual and moral values naturally flow over into the rest of his life. Therefore, he says, the figurative wall of separation between church and state is an ''artificial'' barrier. The need for a common ground
Mr. Turner implores that the Moral Majority and fundamentalist religious groups make peace with other churches and educational and political organizations over such issues as creationism, school prayer, abortion, and public influence on private schools.
''The common ground,'' he says, ''should be honesty and respect for authority. It doesn't have to be the theological aspects of Christ.
The Rev. Mr. Turner's call for a lowering of voices and a meeting of the minds among those with differing views on the role of religion in a democratic society is laudable--and doubtless shared by many.
Nevertheless, debate on the issue rages on--and perhaps with greater thunder than in the past. And it is spilling into the nation's classrooms and ultimately out to the courts, the halls of Congress, and the Oval Office of the White House.
The points of view are many. On the left, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups insist on strict separation of church and state. They see the so-called constitutional ''wall'' as a solid one--which would bar virtually any type of religious activity from the schools and the public sector, in general.
On the other end of the ideological spectrum are the Christian fundamentalists, including the Moral Majority, who view recent court decisions limiting even their nonreligious actions (in areas of taxation, prayer in public schools, choice of students in church schools, and disciplinary measures, for example) as an invasion of their religious privacy. But at the same time, they say it is their ''Christian duty'' to mount a political force to influence legislation and keep lawmakers accountable on such issues as abortion, sex education, creationism, and school prayer.
In the middle are traditional religious groups that generally oppose the intrusion of specific denominational teachings in the public arena--but hold that spiritual and moral values do have an important place in all phases of human experience. To them, the wall is a porous one. And dividing these groups is a thicket of constitutional issues, with potentially far-reaching implications for all Americans. Tuition tax credits
President Ronald Reagan--in a move unprecedented in American presidential history--recently triggered what immediately became a major church-state debate. He lent his support to the granting of a federal income tax credit for tuition paid to parochial and other private schools. The April announcement caused instant polarization over the issue--with proponents hailing it as a milestone ''for freedom, family rights, and justice in American education'' and opponents terming it an unconstitutional breach of the separation of church and state.