American Minute

Bill Federer

William Orville Douglas died JANUARY 19, 1980.

He was a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for 36 years, after having taught law at Yale and Columbia University.

In the 1952 case of Zorach v. Clauson, Justice Douglas wrote:

"The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State...Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other - hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly...

Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamations making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "so help me God" in our courtroom oaths - these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies would be flouting the First Amendment.

A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: 'God save the United States and this Honorable Court...'"

Justice Douglas continued:

"We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being...

When the state encourages religious instruction...it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs.

To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe."

Justice William Douglas concluded:

"We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion...We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility to religion."