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No to Vatican envoy

November 16, 1983



From the early days in the colonizing of what now is the United States of America, mankind's yearning for religious freedom has been a powerful mootivator. It was a principal reason the Pilgrims set sail for the New World, founding at Plymouth in 1620 the first permenent English-speaking settlement after Jamestown. Their decision was to require enormous faith and sacrifice: The first winter half of the little settlement succumbed.

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As the colonies grew, concern continued that there be no nationally established religion. When the fledgling nation passed the 10 original amendments to its Constitution, the first began: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . .," a constitutional basis for the principle of separation of church and state.

The effect of this principle would be violated if the US were to establish formal diplomatic ties with the Vatican. Now moving through Congress is a bill which would make such a link possible for the first time since 1867, when Congress forbade the spending of US funds on a diplomatic mission to the Vatican. In moves that have political overtones in this pre-election year, the measure is expected to gain congressional approval, and President Reagan has let it be known he would appoint an American ambassador.

This is regrettable. Although the Vatican is a separate state, it primarily houses the central governing establishment of a religion. Establishing formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican thus would give clearly favored treatment to one religion: No similar diplomatic relations could be established with representative of any other religion.

Moreover, a governmental US-Vatican relationship would breach the wall separating church and state, which the early settlers of the US and their descendants wisely strove so tenaciously to protect.

This issue is fundamental to the US and should be above politics. Both Congress and the President should reconsider their planned action.