Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
On the ACLU
December 4, 1998
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof......." and, "...No state shall
make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities
of citizens of the United States...."
To me the first and fourteenth amendments to the constitution of the
United States say that we are all free to worship whichever God we
choose - in whichever building we choose - according to whichever book
we choose. But by the same token, it says that government may not
establish a religion and we are not free to use the government to force
our religious beliefs on others . Jurist David Dudley Field once wrote,
"The greatest achievement ever made in the course of human progress is
the total and final separation of church and state."
As a WASP kid in Englewood, I knew that we had several Protestant
churches, and a Catholic church. My parents had a number of Jewish
friends in their various social and political organizations in Denver.
As I remember it, we all got along quite well and minded our own
spiritual business. In spite of what people today say, we did not
have formal prayers in school.
Now in the nineties, Christianity itself is divided and the Christian
Coalition and other Fundamentalist groups are fighting to ignore the
constitution and break down the separation of church and state. In the
name of Christianity they are trying to force their religious agenda on
the rest of us. Our founding fathers warned us. They knew well that
religion joined with government, pairs potential bigotry with great
power, and wrote protections for us.
The one organization which has consistently over years defended my
religious liberties and yours is the American Civil Liberties Union.
The latest battle over the issue of the separation of church and state
is taking place in Arizona and as usual the ACLU is involved. Governor
Jane Hull proclaimed the week of November 22 to 29 as Bible Week in
Arizona. The American Civil Liberties Union sued on the grounds that
Bible Week is an establishment of religion and is offensive to the idea
of the separation of church and state.
Bible Week, sponsored by the Laymen's National Bible Association can
still be declared and celebrated by anyone -- just not by the
government. Every church in the country can declare Bible Week, and
every member of these churches can spend the week reading the Bible and
the ACLU will defend their right to do it.
But the state of Arizona cannot declare it or encourage it.
For 78 years the ACLU has been the only organization consistently
working to protect the liberties of the individual, religious as well
as civil. Some 2000 attorneys donate their time and handle 6000 cases
annually. They do not have the resources to handle every potential
case and have to pick their battles. The Arizona ACLU failed to protest
the proclamation acknowledging Ramadan because they were not aware of it
at the time. John Hay assures me that they will oppose proclamations
of all religions in the future.
My son John is president of the Arizona ACLU. He has been giving of his
time and energy to the cause of civil liberties for over 30 years. He
still believes, as strongly as he did when he was a kid in Grand
Junction, in the protection of individual liberties, not of just a
select few people, but of all of us.
We are supposed to teach our children, but I have learned more from
mine than I ever taught them. John led me into membership in ACLU
many years ago, and he has been my example in public service and in
fighting for what I believe in through all the years since. One of his
co-members wrote of him when he received a special award in 1979, "Over
the years he has become one of the major policy makers of the ACLU, not
only at home but in the country. Without hesitation, compromise or
trimming, John has used his power to serve the principles of the Bill of
Men and women like John and the other 6000 attorneys nationwide who give
their time and energy to ACLU endure bitter criticism, but they go
right on defending the constitution and our civil rights as Americans.