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)

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.

The President insists that it's not a constitutional issue. He says that public schools will benefit by having some of the teaching load lifted from them. And some supporters argue that ''religious education'' is already supported by the government.

In the view of Tim LaHaye, widely heard Christian fundamentalist and a member of the executive committee of the Moral Majority, public education is already the captive of the ''religion of secular humanism''--one that threatens to obliterate ''moral absolutes.''

And Eugene Linse, professor at church-related Concordia College in St. Paul, Minn., says: ''Taxpayers get a tax deduction for donations directly to churches without any question of constitutionality. Certainly then it should not be unconstitutional to give a taxpayer a tax credit for tuition to a school which might be church-affiliated.''

But others, including members of the clergy, see the matter differently. For example, James Dunn, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs says the Reagan plan could lead to government intrusion into religious education. He says federal aid to church schools ''brings out the competitive worst in church folks.'' And Florence Flast, vice-president of the National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty--a group of 50 organizations, including civil rights groups, opposed to such tax credits--terms the idea ''a broadside attack on public education.''

Some opponents view the plan as particularly beneficial to Roman Catholics. In an editorial, the Indianapolis News points out that ''half the private schools are operated by Catholics and they enroll about two-thirds of the total number of pupils while employing more than half the total number of teachers.''

But a group of Catholic educators in Boston stresses that the credits will help parents--and not the private schools.

Political observers say that the Reagan tuition-credit plan may be shelved by Congress this year--for budgetary reasons as much as constitutional considerations. (Tax credits would add an estimated $1 billion over a three-year period to an already heavy federal deficit.) However, should lawmakers pass the measure, a Supreme Court test is almost certain. Church schools and racial discrimination

Is the federal government justified in withdrawing a private school's tax-exempt status on grounds that it is violating a public policy (against racial discrimination)? This is just one issue in a complex case which the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear, probably in the fall. It involves Bob Jones University, a South Carolina school that bars interracial dating and Goldsboro Christian Schools Inc. of North Carolina, which accepts no black students. The specific dispute centers around federal tax policy, but underlying it is the more fundamental issue of the exercise of religious freedom.

In a policy flipflop in January, the Reagan administration revoked an 11 -year-old government mandate which denied tax exemption to private schools that practice racial discrimination. Then, as a result of strong pressure from civil rights advocates, the administration said that it would introduce legislation in Congress which would apply such sanctions on schools that discriminate. Meanwhile, the US Court of Appeals--in the latest of a series of legal moves prior to the high court's decision to hear arguments in the case--temporarily barred the Internal Revenue Service from granting or restoring tax exemptions to these schools.

Many believe that the case could have far-reaching implications for both civil rights and religious liberties. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) charges that both schools represent a ''badge of slavery'' to blacks and should be denied special tax breaks. Bob Jones, president of the 6,300-student university, insists that those who oppose his tax exemptions ''hate God.''

Religious groups are divided on the issue. Several, including the Christian Legal Society, the Mennonite Church, the Mormon Church, and the Worldwide Church of God--while generally condemning the schools' racial policies--say that the denial of tax exemptions constitutes interference with religious liberties. School prayer

Is public, group prayer a proper function in the schools, even if it is conducted on a voluntary basis? Two decades ago, the Supreme Court decided it was not. And that decision still holds today. Yet, in some circles, the issue is far from settled.

A landmark 1962 decision, Engel v. Vitale, held that a state may not prescribe that a prayer be recited daily, even if it is nondenominational. The following year, the high court broadened its interpretation of what's termed the establishment clause of the First Amendment--which prohibits the government from passing a law ''respecting an establishment of religion.'' The court held that the clause forbids a state or city from requiring any religious exercise, no matter how ''voluntary,'' even if the state itself composes the prayer.

Today the prayer issue has once again come to the fore--but this time in Congress and not in the courts. Bringing prayer back into the schools is a rallying cry of the New Right. President Reagan has also lent his support to the idea. It is a key priority for the Moral Majority and fundamentalist groups. They are grouping behind two legislative thrusts being pushed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina.

One packet of resolutions calls for a constitutional amendment either to establish voluntary prayer or moments of silence in the classroom. Other bills would strip the Supreme Court and all lower federal courts of their power to hear cases involving this issue. In effect, each state supreme court could then determine the constitutionality of a particular prayer plan in that state.

Opponents term the latter ''court stripping'' legislation as particularly dangerous and far-reaching in its implications. They say it tampers with the separation-of-powers doctrine embodied in the Constituion, and is therefore patently unconstitutional. Proponents of school prayer, on the other hand, insist that ''voluntary'' prayer does not violate the First Amendment. They argue that parents are free to exempt their children from the exercise. Political observers say that even if the bills regarding prayer pass legislative muster--and the road will be a tough one--an appeal to the Supreme Court is almost certain.

Meanwhile, some observers saw a change in the high court's attitude on the issue of school prayer when, at the end of last year, the high tribunal upheld the right of university students to hold student-initiated religious services on campus. Officials at the University of Missouri had barred such practices, but students brought suit and prevailed in the courts. However, the justices held that freedom of speech, rather than freedom of religion, was the key factor in deciding the case. Creationism

The ''creation science'' movement sustained a telling blow earlier this year when a federal district judge in Arkansas struck down a state law requiring ''balanced treatment'' of creationism and evolution in public schools. Judge William R. Overton held that the law was ''simply and purely an effort to introduce the biblical version of creation into the public school curricula''--and he ruled that it was in violation of the First Amendment.

But the battle continues. Next stop: Louisiana, where a court test is scheduled for late July. Meanwhile, fundamentalist forces in other states, including Mississippi and Georgia, are pushing for laws that would require the teaching of scientific creationism in the public schools--along with evolution.

One of the driving forces behind the creationist movement is Kelley Segraves, director of the Creation Science Research Center in San Diego, Calif. Dr. Segraves insists that creationism is not a religion and should not be treated as such. He says that the idea that God created a special being, man, can be taught in the schools without introducing religion. He says these concepts should be presented in classrooms as alternatives to evolution.

But others strongly disagree. For example, Wayne Moyer, director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, contends that the concept of creationism was manufactured as a vehicle by which to introduce religion in the schools. ''It's a fraud, a sham, a religiously motivated issue,'' he says. ''There should be separation of science and religion.'' Religious study and 'released time'

Last fall, a US Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed and generally approved a ''released time'' program operated by the Logan, Utah, school system. High school pupils have the option of missing one period of instruction per day to attend religious classes held in local churches. However, the circuit court found it unconstitutional for the school district to give elective credits for religious studies and to require students to turn in class attendance slips. Parents who oppose the entire program plan an appeal to the US Supreme Court. 'Cults' and religious protections

As a result of the mass suicides in Jonestown, Guyana, by followers of the Rev. Jim Jones and other adverse publicity surrounding religious ''cults,'' the courts and state legislatures now are grappling with a host of cases involving the rights of these groups. At issue in these cases are not only the rights of such groups to raise funds, but also the appropriate legal protections surrounding religious conversions, the ''deprogramming'' of converts, and the states' right to probe cult activities.

In general, the courts so far have been loathe to set clear limits--relying heavily on the establishment clause and the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition of denial ''to any person (of) . . . the equal protection of the law.''

The courts have issued some guidelines. For example, states are not permitted to regulate fund raising by religious groups in ways that burden some groups more than others. So ruled the US Supreme Court in late April in a case involving the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. The court struck down a Minnesota law which imposed registration and reporting requirements on those religions that receive more than half of their contributions from nonmembers. (Religions in this group tend to be outside the religious mainstream, such as the ''Moonies.'')

Some analysts saw this case, in which the court split 5 to 4, as a test of whether states could target regulations at specific religious groups. In a majority opinion, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. said the Minnesota law ''sets up precisely the sort of official denominational preference that the framers of the First Amendment forbade.''

Some observers say that a decision adverse to the Unification Church would have sparked a much wider controversy, involving the question of what actually constitutes a religious sect.

However, in the so-called ''booth requirement'' case, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously last June that a state could limit the opportunity for the Hare Krishna sect to sell merchandise and solicit money at a state fair. Fair officials in Minnesota had required that all solicitation and literature distribution be conducted from booths. The Hare Krishnas had insisted that fund raising is a mandatory religious ritual--and that restricting fund raising to specific locations is a violation of their constitutional rights. The high court , while not accepting that view, did not delve into related questions of solicitation rights at airports, bus terminals, and shopping centers. But legal observers say this is surely coming.

Says Richard Delgado, professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles,''I think that the Supreme Court, now that it has decided a religious fund-raising case adversely to a cult group, will in the near future take up for review a case concerning proselytizing or conversion.''

Professor Delgado says he believes that ''voluntariness'' will play a critical role in helping the court make future decisions regarding cults and sects. He points to a ''deprogramming'' case (Peterson v. Sorlien) in 1980 in which the Minnesota Supreme Court exonerated parents being sued by a daughter who had been removed from a cult against her will. Among other things, the court found that the young woman was not acting of her own free will when under the group's influence.

However, states have so far been reluctant to pass ''conservatorship'' bills that would allow courts to appoint temporary guardians who would be able to remove people forcibly from cults. New York's Legislature did take such action last July, but Gov. Hugh Carey vetoed the action.

Similar legislative action is contemplated (or already afoot) in Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas. And several congressmen are reportedly considering more new legislation based on the Thirteenth Amendment, which forbids slavery.

Jeremiah S. Gutman, president of the New York Civil Liberties Union, strongly opposes all such governmental intrusion in this area. He holds that an assault on the so-called ''new religions'' is, in fact, ''an attack upon religion itself'' and therefore contrary to the Constitution.

But Professor Delgado insists that only religious ''belief'' is protected absolutely. He adds:''Conduct, however, even if motivated by sincere religious conviction, is not protected absolutely, but is subject to a balancing test in which courts compare the strength of the state interest in curtailing or regulating the conduct with the religious adherent's interest in carrying it out.'' Religion and politics

Many churchmen, politicians, scholars, and others interviewed for this series say the Moral Majority and other elements of the so-called ''Christian Right'' pose a threat to the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

Those interviewed do not quarrel with the right of fundamentalists to express their views in public forums. Religious groups in the US have traditionally done just this--maintaining offices in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere expressly for the purpose of lobbying. In addition, churches have a long history of speaking out on social and political issues, either as individual sects or through umbrella groups, such as the National Council of Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals. Too, churches often inform members about legislative acts or other efforts which could curtail freedom of choice and worship and adversely affect the constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state.

Further, ordained clergy have served in Congress--although this has sometimes stirred questions about conflict of interest. The issue particularly surfaced prior to the 1980 elections when 10-year Massachusetts congressional veteran, Robert F. Drinan, a Jesuit priest, gave up his House seat at the behest of the Catholic Church.

But some--even those who tend to agree with the Christian Right--see troublesome elements in the fundamentalist political movement today. They are particularly concerned about perceived attempts to tamper with the balance of power by limiting jurisdiction of the courts, which could happen if a proposed constitutional amendment written by Senator Helms and supported by fundamentalist groups is passed.

There is also distress over ''morality ratings'' on congressmen, based on how they vote on certain issues, including abortion, school prayer, sex education, gay rights, school busing, and regulation of private schools. (Christian Voice--an organization made up of Catholics, Mormons, and charismatics, as well as evangelicals and fundamentalists--keeps such ratings.) And there are questions over attempts to defeat candidates for reelection by targeting them as immoral and anti-Christian. (The Moral Majority--likely the largest of the New Right groups and certainly the most vocal--proudly boasts of its role in ousting certain liberal Senators, including Birch Bayh (D) of Indiana and George McGovern (D) of South Dakota.

''We believe in the separation of church and state-- but not the separation of church from God,'' says Baptist minister Tim LaHaye, a co-founder of the Moral Majority. Mr. LaHaye insists the government of the US ''return to the recognition of God's authority.'' He strongly advocates returning prayer to the schools and teaching creationism in the classroom.

Former Senator Bayh says that Mr. LaHaye and others in the Christian Right are intolerant of other points of view.

''I believe in religious freedom,'' says Bayh, ''I'm a born-again Christian. But I believe that you should pray in the privacy of your own chamber. I'm concerned about a doctrine--which is not of love--but of hatred of those who disagree.''

And Rep. Philip Crane (R) of Illinois--who has strongly supported most issues advocated by fundamentalists--concedes: ''The single-issue groups have developed tunnel vision. They fail to make distinctions in terms of the individual. If you're right on their issue [abortion, school prayer], OK. But if you're not, well. . . .''

Next: Freedom of the press: Is the flaming sword tarnished?

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