The Public Square
(April 1999)

Richard John Neuhaus

Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 92 (April 1999): 71-88.

The Dying of the Academic Light

The long history of colleges and universities betraying their founding purposes is well told in Father James Burtchaell’s doleful and instructive The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Eerdmans). It is a complex of problems facing all church–related schools, but is now coming to a head among Catholics. Throwing down the gauntlet to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), Fr. J. Donald Monan, chancellor of Boston College, and Fr. Edward A. Malloy, president of Notre Dame, assert in an article in America that the bishops’ provisions for implementing the 1990 apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), are unacceptable. The purpose of Ex Corde Ecclesiae is to revitalize the authentically Catholic character of the Church’s colleges and universities. The gist of the Monan–Malloy protest is that, whatever may once have been the case, these institutions are no longer in any way the Church’s.

Their position is that of the opening paragraph of the 1967 Land O’ Lakes Statement: "To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself." The one authority external to the academic community that is not challenged is that of the government. Indeed that authority is invoked and exaggerated in order to deny the authority of the Church. Monan and Malloy write: "Catholic colleges and universities in the United States were established and hold their degree–granting charters from the several states. Under civil law, it is their board of trustees or directors who hold ultimate governing authority and responsibility for carrying out the university’s mission." The syntax is garbled, but they would seem to be making the remarkable claim that Catholic colleges and universities were established by the states, which is obviously contrary to fact, and are governed by civil law, which no state has presumed to claim.

The historical fact is that, until the Land O’ Lakes declaration of independence, Catholic schools established by Catholics had boards of directors responsible for seeing that they continued to be what they were established to be. The Monan–Malloy objection is to the proposals "that Catholic teachers of theological disciplines hold a mandate from ecclesiastical authority; that theology professors and some administrative officers make a profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity upon assuming appointment; and that colleges condition an individual’s appointment on integrity of doctrine and good character." They cannot honestly be afraid that any state in the Union would say that a Catholic institution cannot implement such proposals. Of whom, then, are they afraid?

It comes back to what Land O’ Lakes meant by "the academic community itself." Monan and Malloy write, "The universities’ acceptance of the obligations [proposed by the bishops] would mean the sacrifice of many of those prerogatives that make Catholic universities and their professional staffs the respected and influential members of the higher education community that they are." Even more revealingly and poignantly, they say at another point that the colleges and universities desire a bishops’ document that "they would be proud to display to sister institutions of higher education." In sum, they want to be Catholic without embarrassment, which means being Catholic in a way that entails no embarrassing differences from the institutions of "the academic community" that they emulate. Message to Harvard, Princeton, and Dartmouth: "Yes, there is that vestigial ‘Catholic thing’ about us, and we don’t want to disown it outright (that would upset both the alumni and play havoc with recruitment), but in fact we are just like you, or are trying hard to be. Please let us continue to be ‘respected and influential members’ of your community."

In the Monan–Malloy view, Catholic schools are concerned about three players: the government, the prestige institutions that define "the academic community," and the Catholic Church. The first two are enlisted against the third. The enlistment of the first is an obvious ploy. To the second they are positively obsequious. Only the third is not deserving of deference. The bishops will, one hopes, continue to make clear that this is not acceptable on the part of institutions that want in the future to be recognized as Catholic by the Church. Fr. James J. Conn, dean of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, argues in the same issue of America that there are many important questions still to be worked out, but, contra Monan and Malloy, they are questions about how, not whether, Ex Corde Ecclesiae will be implemented.

Bearing Witness

When the vagaries of American life and culture seem too much to bear, a dramatic change in perspective is in order. Break Point, a new book by Slovak Catholic layman Silvester Krcméry may be just the thing (Crossroad, 315 pp., $19.95). It is the story of his arrest and imprisonment by the Communist government of the former Czechoslovakia during the critical years of 1951–1964. Krcméry paid a stiff price for his "treasonous" commitment to the gospel and the Church. He tells the story as "the true account of brainwashing and the greater power of the gospel," and his account of thirteen years under brutalizing circumstances both horrifies and inspires. Michael Novak says in the preface, "By his witness, Silvo has ennobled the entire Slovak nation," and he is right.

Krcméry’s telling is simultaneously disinterested and passionate. As a medical doctor, he offers a cool and clinical analysis of the techniques employed by the persecutors to induce mental submission, and his techniques in resisting theirs. Then there are the physical tortures: standing for fifty–two hours straight, long exposure to below–freezing temperatures, beatings by drunken interrogators. In dredging up these painful memories, the author is again assailed by the wrenching headaches and backaches he experienced in prison. But, as painful as it is, he believes he must remember: both to witness to God’s mercy in upholding his people, and to expose the evil done to them, in hope that it will never be repeated. There is no personal vindictiveness, however. Simply and convincingly, he forgives his enemies.

It is not too much to say that Dr. Krcméry accepted his cross gladly, and received solitary confinement as a divinely ordained spiritual discipline. He fondly recalls his daily "program" in prayers, contemplation, recitation of the Gospels, and translation of those memorized texts into other languages. He studied foreign languages with other prisoners, and regrets learning only eight hundred Chinese characters. All the while he was evangelizing, trying to extend the mission of Catholic Action, the outlawed group which it was his crime to belong to. His enthusiasm for the Eucharist, and constant vigilance lest it be defiled by the haters of God who surrounded him, stands out like a light in his grim circumstances.

It might be presumptuous to say that one was humbled by the book, but it does put one in touch with authentic humility. The utter transparency with which Krcméry examines his heart and actions to see what he might have done differently, and how, is striking. More than once he tried to get a transfer to the uranium mining camps where many of his fellow Christians were dying slow and terrible deaths, but he was kept working in the prison infirmary, both because of his medical skills and to hinder his evangelizing. He declined offers of amnesty, since experience taught him that the release of some inmates meant worse treatment for those left behind. He even protested his nine–month–early release from the camps in 1964, wishing to serve out his entire unjust sentence. It almost strikes one as perverse, except he makes it seem so self–evidently right. He writes about leaving the camp: "Thus, with a strange feeling of defeat, with expectations as well as sadness, I began to pack my things. I said goodbye to friends, acquaintances, hooligans, thieves, and warders. And to those thirteen, at least from the Christian point of view, beautiful years of my life. Even though they were spent behind bars and barbed wire." Bracing stuff, that.


The third big thick volume of The Catholic Social Science Review has arrived, and I see it has a symposium on "David Schindler vs. Neoconservatism." As long–term readers know, Professor Schindler is editor of the theological journal Communio and for some ten years now he has taken upon himself the task of taking to task the Catholic neoconservatives (Michael Novak, George Weigel, and your scribe) for their alleged compromise of Catholic social doctrine in their dalliance with the liberal tradition, of which the American experiment is part. In his part of the symposium, Mark Lowery of University of Dallas offers an overview of the controversy and concludes with a list of propositions to which he thinks all parties could agree:

a. While the Church respects the proper autonomy of the temporal order and never favors any one particular political regime in principle, the liberal state is compatible, in practice, with Catholicism, as articulated in Dignitatis Humanae.
b. The extent to which the liberal political order is a good setting for the Catholic faith is a legitimate matter for continued discussion. The "Catholic Moment" theory ought not be construed in such a way as to suggest that the liberal regime is necessarily the ideal home for the Catholic faith in this world, even if it is the best available home at the present time.
c. The liberal state is something of an indeterminate and, hence, vulnerable entity. While in its current American manifestation it is less than promising, it contains a capacity for improvement. Liberal ideology need not accompany liberal institutions.
d. Concretely speaking, the liberal regime, for all its vulnerabilities, is the best political option currently available. This is not to say that the Church endorses it (a strategic alliance) as her favored choice of all conceivable political regimes, which would violate the Church’s principle regarding the proper autonomy of the temporal order.
e. The liberal state in America will never totally harmonize with the richness of the Catholic onto–logic (nor could any temporal regime); still, the cultural dimension of a liberal regime (as well as the economic and political dimensions insofar as they are affected by the cultural dimension) can participate in that logic. While shunning a strategic alliance with liberalism, we can make varying kinds of tactical alliances with it.
f. The degree of that participation, and the ways in which such participation might be increased, is an important matter for continued discussion. Varying kinds of tactical alliances can and should exist side by side. Undoubtedly, a Protestant ethos pervades much of American life, but even that ethos can and does participate in Catholic truth, and can be nourished by contact with the Catholic tradition.
g. Catholics should strive to bring the fullness of their faith to their engagement in the temporal order, even though the temporal order never will echo perfectly that fullness (the "eschatological principle" in Catholic social thought).
h. Because that faith is so much under siege, we must be especially dedicated to work in harmony with one another, nourished by a theological and pastoral magnanimity within the parameters of the authentic Catholic faith.

I might have an editorial quibble with a phrase or two, but sign me on. I haven’t checked with Novak or Weigel, but would be surprised if they did not agree. Whether or not this means a ceasefire is mainly up to Prof. Schindler, who, one notes with all respect, has been doing 90 percent of the firing. (The Catholic Social Science Review, an annual, is available for $10 plus $3 postage from Franciscan University Press, Steubenville, OH 43952.)

Who Is a Jew? What Is Israel?

The beginning of the year witnessed a new and virulent eruption of Israel’s perennial identity crisis. At a time already confused by turbulent campaigns in the national election, the courts handed down decisions challenging the Orthodox rabbinate’s control of religious affairs, which, in a state that defines itself as Jewish, means also affairs that in other countries would not be defined as religious. "Isn’t this the lesson one recalls from American history?" asks Rabbi Uri Regev, a leader of the small Reform movement in Israel. "A recalcitrant Congress motivated by less than noble considerations and a Court that emerges as the beacon of light and defender of civil liberties." Judicial usurpation of politics, anyone?

But the parallels between the U.S. and Israel are limited. The U.S. in its founding was a Christian, mainly Protestant, society, as it is still, however confusedly, a Christian society today. The polity adopted here is religiously neutral, which does not mean—contra the jurisprudence of recent decades—that it is anti–religiously secular. Any religious test for citizenship or public office, for instance, is forbidden. Since the days of the Romans, by way of contrast, there was no Jewish state until the establishment of Israel in 1948. Unlike Christianity, which has had two thousand years of numerous experiments with different polities, Judaism as a collectivity completely missed the experience of nation–building and statecraft, including the modern emergence of liberal democracy.

The Zionist founders of contemporary Israel were typically secularists and frequently antireligious. But a deal was struck in which the Orthodox rabbinate would have control over religious matters such as marriage, Sabbath observance, food laws, and, very importantly, determining who is and who is not a Jew. The Orthodox, for instance, do not recognize as Jewish someone who converts under Reform or Conservative auspices. Backed by Reform and Conservative leaderships in North America (where there are more Jews than in Israel), the constituting compromise of the State of Israel is now under severe challenge. In the vanguard of the challenge are the courts. Deborah Sontag of the New York Times puts it this way: "By their very existence, the courts are a threat to the strictly Orthodox when they rule on religious matters. The laws they interpret are secular and not religious, and the principles that they uphold are democratic and not theocratic."

That strikes one as dangerously simplistic. Like the rabbi quoted above, many secular liberals in Israel seem to be reading their circumstance through the prism of the American experience, with the assertive and growing Orthodox (usually called "ultra–Orthodox") cast in the role of what here is called the "religious right." Neither here nor in Israel should the choice be posed in terms of democracy vs. theocracy. That way lies religious warfare, with secularism being every bit as much an aggressive belligerent as the parties designated as religious. In America, those advocating anything like theocracy are a very small band of "reconstructionists" or "theonomists" on the far fringes of our political culture. In Israel, ironically, those accused of advocating theocracy are in some cases sectarian Orthodox who do not even recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel, believing as they do that a Jewish state must await the Messianic Age and the restoration of the Temple.

Reconciling Contradictions

This is the Middle East, which means that nobody is an expert. Some people are just more informed in their confusion than others. But we have to hope that Ms. Sontag got it wrong when she writes: "Given the ferocity of the battle, many believe that it can only end in a showdown in which Israel will be forced to reconcile the contradictions of being the Jewish homeland and a secular democracy." If these are indeed contradictions, they can, by definition, not be reconciled. Perhaps it is better to view them as tensions that were finessed by compromise in Israel’s founding, and require constant statecraft to keep the constituting settlement in repair. But that will not happen if "secular democracy" is pressed in terms that are perceived as antireligious, which can only further inflame the passion of the Orthodox to achieve control in a culture war that, in this case, would not be warfare by other means.

It does seem to come down to the question of who is a Jew. The crunch point here is not over which rabbinical group certifies conversions but, or so it seems to me, what is the religious factor, if any, in being a Jew. After all, the number of converts is relatively small. The striking oddity is that some anti–Orthodox champions of secularization have chosen as their cause the question of conversion, which is undeniably a matter of religious doctrine and ritual. Thus they would appear to be reinforcing, however inadvertently, the Orthodox in stressing a religious definition of who is Jew, which has everything to do with how a "Jewish homeland" understands itself and orders its common life. As for the more militant secularists who would eliminate the religion factor entirely, it would seem that, for them, being a Jew is entirely an ethnic or tribal matter. That way lies the "blood and soil" nationalism from which Jews have suffered so unspeakably, and an invitation of the infamous charge of the UN General Assembly, now rescinded, that Zionism is racism.

Thinking the Unthinkable

Columnist Charles Krauthammer, one of the most astute students of these matters, has written about the need to "think the unthinkable," namely, the possibility of the dissolution or destruction of the State of Israel. Christians, too, need to ponder the significance of that ominous prospect. Some evangelical Protestants hold to End Time scenarios in which Jews and Israel are cast in a role not of their own choosing. Such scenarios aside, all Christians who have pondered the logic of St. Paul’s reflection in Romans 9 through 11 know that the world has a deep stake in the Jewish people, and even those who are indifferent to the theology of St. Paul must know the Jewish people has a deep stake in the State of Israel. Further complicating matters, Israel is radically dependent upon the U.S. for its security—short of the nuclear Masada option, which is no security at all.

Americans are strongly supportive of Israel and, God willing, will continue to be. But the reasons for that support need to be clearly and freshly articulated. One reason, without which the State of Israel would not have come into being, was the Holocaust. I say "was" advisedly, for that memory fades, and with it the sense of obligation to those who suffered. Moreover, Israel’s treatment of its neighbors, especially of the Palestinians, and most especially of the Palestinian Christians, has confused for many people who is the victim and who the victimizer. Even the most fervent defender of Israeli policy recognizes that Israel has had the upper hand, and that hand has sometimes been brutal. The result is that, in the twenty–first century, few Jews and even fewer Christians will understand the Holocaust as a compelling reason to support the State of Israel.

Another reason, persuasively offered during the long years of the Cold War, is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and therefore an American ally in the contest with totalitarianism. The Cold War, thank God, is past, and with it that reason for U.S. support of Israel. Today some advance the reason that Israel is America’s friend against enemies in the region such as Iraq, but most Americans understand that we would likely not have so many enemies in the region were it not for the State of Israel. What reason, then, is left for an incorrigibly and confusedly Christian America to support the State of Israel? I think the answer is this: Because Israel is inextricably entangled with the safety and well–being of the chosen people, the children of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. For the sake of the spiritual integrity of Judaism—in which Christians, too, have a profound interest—and for the safety of the State of Israel, we must hope that the militant Israeli secularists and their American Jewish abettors will not succeed in undermining the believability of that reason.

A Gift for Canada

Those fortunate Canadians. I have several times expressed sympathy for people who have to put up with the ideologically driven inanity of the Toronto–based Globe and Mail, Canada’s "national newspaper." Now publishing mogul Conrad Black has decided to do something about it. A new paper, National Post, was launched late last fall and within just a few months bids fair to overtake the circulation of the Globe and Mail. It is thick, handsomely designed, and with a thoroughly centrist editorial policy that does not hesitate to challenge the dominant leftist fashions of political culture north of the border. Consider, for instance, National Post’s lead editorial on December 24, and ponder why it is nearly impossible to imagine a comparable statement in any national or regional newspaper in the United States.

Christmas In The Real World

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled." St. Luke names the time yet more precisely. It was "when Quirinius was governor of Syria." The gospel account is attentive to the thereness, the thus and soness, of what happened. A real mother, a real baby, a real promise kept. He is called Immanuel, which means "God with us." "In Him was life," writes St. John, "and the life was the light of men." The darkness will rage against the light in a real cross and a real death. Nonetheless, John writes, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
Christmas is family and song and food and sentiment and gifts, but Christmas is not time–out from the real world. For the billions who have believed, who believe today, and who will believe until the end of time, Christmas is the real world. God becoming one of us so that we may become the children of God is the axis mundi, the center on which the world turns. It happened. Not in the timelessness of myth, nor in antiquity beyond recall, nor in the virtual reality of cyberspace, but in the real world in real time. In the only time there is. In our time.
To kneel before this Jewish baby and his Jewish mother is to face up to reality. Or so we are told, and so Christians believe. God said to Abraham, "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven," and He is keeping his promise to this day. To every child, and to every adult mature enough to become a child again, comes the invitation to be a star, reflecting the light that came into the world on Christmas day. To love as, in Him, we are loved; to forgive as we are forgiven; to understand as we are understood; to bear with others as He bears with us. To live, as He said, in the truth that makes us free. And then to die, in the sure hope of Heaven’s dawn.
In the real world. In real time. In a world of wars and famines and dreadful plagues, of loves disappointed and loves betrayed, of promises broken and innocent lives cut short, of affluent masses rich in things and poor in soul, of cruelty triumphant and kindness scorned, of dishonesty praised and honor debased. Into such a world and such a time, into our world and our time, came the light that shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it. The darkness will never, never ever, overcome it.

John Paul II in and on America

As discussed in my recent book, Appointment in Rome: The Church in America Awakening (Crossroad), one of the big subjects at the Synod for America that was held in Rome at the end of 1997 was the relationship to non–Catholic Christians, especially in Latin America, where the interaction between Catholics and Protestants has been typically hostile, sometimes violently so. The synod is advisory to the Pope, and he officially states its conclusions, which he did this January in a lengthy post–synodal "apostolic exhortation" titled Ecclesia in America, delivered in Mexico City. The exhortation closely tracks what happened at the synod, also on the question of Catholic–Protestant relations, following the initiative "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (ECT), which has been pioneered in this country.

A major complaint of Latin American Protestants (mainly Evangelical and Pentecostal) in the past is that they were dismissively referred to as "sects." Ecclesia in America makes the necessary distinctions that many of us urged at the synod in Rome. (Keep in mind that "America" in this context means North, Central, and South.) John Paul II says: "The evangelization which accompanied the European migrations has shaped America’s religious profile, marked by moral values which, though they are not always consistently practiced and at times are cast into doubt, are in a sense the heritage of all Americans, even of those who do not explicitly recognize this fact. Clearly, America’s Christian identity is not synonymous with Catholic identity. The presence of other Christian communities, to a greater or lesser degree in the different parts of America, means that the ecumenical commitment to seek unity among all those who believe in Christ is especially urgent."

The Pope repeats the resolve of the synod "that Catholic Christians, pastors, and faithful foster cooperation between Christians of the different confessions, in the name of the gospel, in response to the cry of the poor, by the promotion of justice, by common prayer for unity, and by sharing in the word of God and the experience of faith in the living Christ." Then comes the crucial distinction: "Although the Second Vatican Council refers to all those who are baptized and believe in Christ as ‘brothers and sisters in the Lord,’ it is necessary to distinguish clearly between Christian communities, with which ecumenical relations can be established, and sects, cults, and other pseudo–religious movements." Later, the document criticizes "the proselytizing activity of the sects," noting that proselytism "has a negative meaning when it indicates a way of winning followers which does not respect the freedom of those to whom a specific kind of religious propaganda is directed." It then goes on to emphasize again that these sects are to be distinguished from "the sisters and brothers [who are] in true though imperfect communion" with the Catholic Church, and that that communion "must enlighten the attitudes of the Church and her members towards them."

It should be noted that the "sects, cults, and other pseudo–religious movements," of which there are many indigenous instances in Latin America, are as much of a concern for more orthodox Protestants as they are for Catholics. In addition, one notes with satisfaction that the exhortation conspicuously omits any reference to Protestant missions as an "invasion" from the North, a claim asserted by some Latin American bishops at the synod. Most welcome also is John Paul’s calling on the bishops to ask why people leave the Catholic Church, and pointing to the need for more effective evangelization and catechesis. If Catholics are joining other Christian and doubtfully Christian groups, he suggests, it is, at least in largest part, because the Catholic Church has not been doing its job as well as it should. In these and other respects, Ecclesia in America again confirms the effort of ECT, an effort that is now gaining ground also in Latin America, as evidenced in an unprecedented meeting this March of Catholic bishops and Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders from all over Latin America in Quito, Ecuador. (More on that in a later installment.)

I should add that I was among those at the synod who urged that the term "sects" should be dropped altogether from the Church’s ecumenical vocabulary. When I first learned that it would be used in the apostolic exhortation, I was, quite frankly, worried. But in fact, it turns out to be used in a way that does remove it from ecumenical vocabulary, since ecumenism has to do with relations between those who are brothers and sisters in Christ. The use of the term "sects" is helpful in distinguishing authentically Christian communities from cults and pseudo–religions that are no part of our common Christian mission. The result is to strengthen a shared Christian identity between Catholics and Protestants, underscoring the hope that in the next century we will evangelize the Americas with, rather than against, one another. This is precisely the prospect proposed in Appointment in Rome, and its confirmation by the apostolic exhortation is cause for thanksgiving. The credit for this development goes to the Latin American bishops at the synod who recognized that existing Protestant–Catholic hostilities are wrong and dead–ended, to Edward Cardinal Cassidy and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity who have vigorously advocated necessary change, and, of course, to John Paul II who has given such lucid expression to the deliberations of the Synod for America. Deo gratias.

William Bentley Ball (1916–1999)

William Bentley Ball, that doughty champion of religious freedom and the underdog, is dead at age eighty–two. He was vacationing in Florida and was found unconscious in a swimming pool. He died a few days thereafter. A frequent contributor to these pages, Bill Ball argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court, including Yoder, which secured Amish parents the right to control the education of their children, and Zobrest, which vindicated the right of a handicapped child to government aid in a religious school. The latter is widely perceived as a breakthrough pointing toward vouchers and other instruments of parental choice in education. He was a devout Catholic, which, he said, is why evangelical Protestants, Mennonites, Mormons, and anyone else could count on his help in protecting their right to the free exercise of religion. Bill was a dear friend and a happy warrior. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and I envy the angels his good company. Requiescat in pace.

But more needs to be said. The following tribute is by Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Jr. of Valparaiso University School of Law:

I have always regarded it as a great grace, or gift from God, that I studied law at the time and place that I did. The place was Catholic University of America in the nation’s capital. The time was the early 1970s. Because of our location, my professor of constitutional law, Albert Broderick, urged us to skip classes once in a while (not too often!) to hear oral argument at the Supreme Court of the United States.

Following the advice of my professor led to my first encounter with William Bentley Ball on December 8, 1971, the day on which he argued for Jonas Yoder and his family. I recall vividly Bill’s crisp, clear voice as he cited the 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters: "The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations." Chief Justice Warren Burger must have been moved by this citation, which he included in his opinion for the Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). Even when the Court was to announce a sea–change in free exercise standards in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), it did not abandon Yoder, which still stands as a valid precedent requiring states and local public school boards to accommodate the religious concerns of parents. Bill’s skillful advocacy in Yoder has benefited not only the Old Order Amish, whom he represented, but also literally hundreds of thousands of parents, including home schoolers, who have derived great benefit from this opinion.

At a symposium at Notre Dame on the fiftieth anniversary of the Pierce case, Bill noted the anti–Catholic roots of the Oregon measure challenged in Pierce, and he reminded us of the strong interreligious coalition that made its first appearance at the Court in this case (the American Jewish Committee, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, several Presbyterian ministers, and a conference of Seventh–day Adventists). Bill was a living example of that sort of generous collaboration in the common cause of preserving religious liberty. Although Leo Pfeffer, counsel for the American Jewish Congress, argued the opposite side of many of the cases in which Bill espoused financial support for children attending religious schools, notably Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), Bill developed a friendship with Pfeffer; and in the last period of his career Bill came to accept Pfeffer’s warning about the danger of strings attached to public assistance. In Bill’s paper on Pierce, he gave special credit to the American Jewish Committee for blasting the Oregon act in its amicus brief with this trenchant comment: "If the children of the country are to be educated in accordance with an undeviating rule of uniformity and by a single method, then eventually our nation would consist of mechanical Robots and standardized Babbitts."

These words epitomize the style that characterized Bill’s courtroom style—unflinching advocacy that spoke the truth to power. He argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and assisted in more than two dozen others. His views on financial support for freedom of choice in education eventually prevailed in Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District (1993). For decades he provided sage counsel to those of us who have worked in the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom.

On June 25, 1989, a prominent group of legal authorities, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, joined with civic leaders of both political parties, prominent businessmen and labor leaders, religious leaders and educators in signing the Williamsburg Charter. Bill was a member of the small drafting committee that crafted this remarkable document, which was styled "A celebration and reaffirmation of the Religious Liberty clauses, drafted by representatives of America’s leading faiths on the occasion of the two hundredth anniversary of the call for the Bill of Rights." I don’t know whether Bill penned the following two passages in the Charter, but they bear his stamp as a public citizen and champion of religious freedom: "Religious liberty finally depends on neither the favors of the state and its officials nor the vagaries of tyrants or majorities. Religious liberty in a democracy is a right that may not be submitted to vote and depends on the outcome of no election. A society is only as just and free as it is respectful of this right, especially toward the beliefs of its smallest minorities and least popular communities. . . . [T]he chief menace to religious liberty today is the expanding power of government control over personal behavior and the institutions of society, when the government acts not so much in deliberate hostility to, but in reckless disregard of, communal belief and personal conscience."

In 1994 Bill published some of his essays on education, religion, and the courts under the title Mere Creatures of the State?: A View from the Courtroom. Father Richard John Neuhaus put it well when he wrote in the preface to this volume: "Given the formidable force of the wrong opposed by this book, and given what may appear to be the improbability of achieving the right for which Bill contends, some may think his effort just a bit Quixotic. But that would be a serious mistake. He is not jousting against windmills but against patterns of thought and practice that have achieved an awesome dominance in American life and law. Moreover, his life’s work has demonstrated again and again the power of the individual to effectively challenge that dominance. From the Supreme Court to school board hearings in humble villages, the voice of Bill Ball has championed the cause of ‘little people’ who have dared to question the authority of their supposed betters. His advocacy joins fortitude to compassion, learning to eloquence, and earnestness to humor. It is a mix of virtues too rarely encountered."

William Bentley Ball died at the age of eighty–two on Sunday, January 10, 1999. He will continue to have a powerful impact on the deepest desires of Americans for religious freedom. Though Bill was a very able advocate, he was first of all a faithful disciple of the Lord. In calling our brother Bill to a place where advocacy is unnecessary, the Lord Himself can be heard to say again: "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:31).

While We’re At It

Sources: On Ex Corde Ecclesiae, America, January 30, 1999. On who is a Jew, New York Times, January 7, 1999.

While We’re At It: On Frederick Cook and Mount McKinley, New York Times, November 26, 1998. On right–wing fringe groups, New York Times, December 6, 1998. On Galina Starovoitova, correspondence with Lawrence Uzzell of the Keston Institute. William Donohue on Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Catholic League press release, December 2, 1998. Richard McBrien on non–Catholics receiving the Eucharist, Catholic Northwest Progress, November 26, 1998. Catesby Leigh on John Paul II Cultural Center, Sacred Architecture, Fall 1998. On the AIDS National Interfaith Network, Ottumwa Courier, December 12, 1998. On the Pope and indulgences, New York Times, December 6, 1998. "Decentralization for United Methodists?" in Christian Century, November 18–25, 1998. On why the millennium counts, New York Times, January 1, 1999. Adam Wolfson on toleration, Public Interest, Winter 1999. Theo Klein on abuses of the memory of the Holocaust, New York Times, December 15, 1998. On Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, National Review, January 25, 1999. On Georgetown condoms, Hoya, December 4, 1998; also American Life League News Release, December 4, 1998. George D. Lundberg on abortion, Journal of the American Medical Association, August 26, 1998. On Silver Sewer, Empower America press release, December 7, 1998. "We are the sheep, where are the shepherds?" in National Right to Life News, January 22, 1999. On controversies within Methodism, Good News press release, January 22, 1999. On PLAGAL members being excluded from pro–life march, PLAGAL press release, January 22, 1999. On Jerry Falwell and the Antichrist, catholic trends, January 23, 1999. J. Engel on Saul Alinsky and the CHD, Theological Studies, December 1998. New edition of Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage reviewed by John Simon, Wall Street Journal, January 6, 1999. French magazine Le Point on Richard John Neuhaus, December 31, 1998. "Why Philo?" by Keith M. Parsons in Philo, Spring/Summer 1998. On intolerance in India, Turkey, and Arabia, New York Times, January 11, 1999.