Many people seem to be confused over the meaning of the term “separation of church and state”. How is it relevant to our lives in America?


The very concept of the “separation of church and state” dates back to Roger Williams and the founding of Rhode Island in 1636. He was the first American to advocate and activate complete freedom of conscience, dissociation of church and state, and genuine political democracy. He also founded the first Baptist Church in North America. He settled in Providence with 13 other householders and in one year formed the first genuine democracy, as well as the first church-divorced and conscience-free community in modern history. Williams felt that government is the natural way provided by God to cope with the corrupt nature of man. But since government could not be trusted to know which religion is true, he considered the best hope for true religion rests with the protection of the freedom of all religion, along with non-religion, from the state. In that way, whichever religion was true would never find itself subservient to one that was false. The truth of a religion doesn’t lie in the number of it’s believers but in its message.

Separation of Church and State

The logic behind the concept is flawless, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the forward thinking of the founders of this country. With the diversity inherent in a pluralistic society, including a multitude of Christian sects, as well as representation of every faith on the planet, including those with no beliefs at all, the only conceivable way to ensure that no amount of favoritism is shown through legislation to any one belief, in preference to any other, is to create an environment in which all religious beliefs compete with each on a level playing field based on their own merits.

Some have argued that what that does is establish atheism as something having a favored religious status. Nothing could be further from the truth. Atheism is not a religion. It’s the absence of religion. It holds a secular position. The default position of the government is one that shows no favoritism to any religious view. That is the definition of secular. In order to maintain religious freedom, which is the core of democracy, government must not concern itself with religious subjects. In this way each religion rises or falls of it’s own accord without the assistance of the government. The success and purity of a religion should be based on faith, which is its message. Not government sponsorship. Government corrupts religion.

The atheist has no interest in religion and simply holds the same default position, and that position is one of democracy. Religious freedom and the freedom of ones conscience is fundamental to democracy. Atheism, for example, doesn’t introduce something into the legislative action of government based upon a belief. It doesn’t concern itself with belief at all. Therefore it, like the government, which must address the needs of all of its people, can only address matters that effect everyone regardless of their beliefs. Knowing that no religion can prove itself as more real or accurate than any other, government can’t possibly legislate the beliefs of one over the beliefs of another on issues that are simply matters of faith. The only result from that kind of action is religious tyranny. Society is reduced to a matter of who has the most adherents to a belief. Having more believers doesn’t mean that the belief is necessarily true.

Jefferson said, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Holding to this principle insures the concept of religious freedom that is the cornerstone of democracy. Opposition to this principle begs the question put forth by Justice O’Connor when she asked, “Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly? Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Ten Commandments ruling, June 27, 2005

The Separation of Church and State principle is a part of our historical, legal and political/social heritage and preserves and protects our religious liberty.


Roger Williams – Champion of Liberty: by Ian Williams Goddard. eighth great-great-grandson of Roger Williams

Thomas Jefferson: Letter to the Danbury Baptists. Jefferson Writings. Library of America

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: United States Supreme Court

The copyright of the article Separation of Church and State in American Affairs is owned by Larry Allen Brown. Permission to republish Separation of Church and State in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.


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The Hobby Lobby Decision

In her dissent on the contraception ruling, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes that “the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities.” That used to be true.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals explained last year that courts have “long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself.” Ruling that “a for-profit corporation can engage in religious exercise” would “eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners.”

In the Hobby Lobby ruling, the court’s conservative  majority  made up of 5 Catholic  men, makes the opposite assumption. Justice Alito wrote:

“Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”

And there we have the crux of the problem with this decision. The religious inclinations of the owners of a corporation are now extended outward into the corporation itself. This is made possible by the ridiculous “Citizens United” ruling by the SCOTUS that Corporations are People.  And that money = speech. Clearly, if money = speech, then speech isn’t Free.  The more money you have, the more speech you have at your disposal.  Those with very little money, have virtually no speech at all. With campaign’s now hitting the Billion Dollar mark, the transition from Democracy to Plutocracy is completed. The owners of the corporation most certainly have their own individual religious identity which is respected as well it should be. However, they are accountable to no-one but themselves for their beliefs.  They are free to hold whatever beliefs they may have, but now have the added legal authority to impose those beliefs on their own employees. If proselytize  means, promote, advocate, champion, advance, further, spread, proclaim, peddle, preach, endorse, urge, recommend, boost, which Hobby Lobby engages in even to the extent of pumping Christian religious music  into their stores, then it’s clear that every employee and every customer is a target for conversion to the owners own brand of ideological thinking.

The Hobby Lobby ruling makes those religious beliefs a priority within the corporation itself and felt by those that work for the company, whether they subscribe to them or not. How far can this be applied? Who knows? Depending on the owners religious inclinations they could claim that their beliefs oppose all forms of vaccinations, or medications. They could oppose other laws on religious grounds that are designed to counter discrimination in the work place. They could oppose providing services to some people based on their religious beliefs. This doesn’t guarantee that they will. But it does mean that by using the logic that the court applied to Hobby Lobby, there is nothing standing in their way. They are now afforded the same religious exemptions as a church which is exempted from the Civil Rights Act.

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act:


SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703]


(a) Employer practices

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Title VII contains only one religious exemption, which applies to any “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society.” Such groups are allowed to make employment decisions on the basis of an individual’s particular religion. The same protection is extended to any “school, college, university, or other educational institution” if the curriculum is “directed toward the propagation of a particular religion.” That exemption now applies to a for- profit, closely held corporation that claims to have a religious identity.

This exemption does not apply to the other protected classes like sex, race, and national origin — it only says that religious organizations can discriminate based on religion. Again, Hobby Lobby now qualifies as a religious organization in the eyes of the Supreme Court.

Hobby Lobby is not a religious corporation. It’s a for profit corporation owned by a Christian family. If it were a religious corporation it could enjoy the same tax free status as that of a church. It’s also a corporation licensed to do business by the state, which cannot allow discrimination of any kind, religious or otherwise, to be acceptable. In effect, the state now engages in religious discrimination as well. It is casting a favored status  toward one religion, that other’s do not enjoy. And the taxpayer is paying taxes to that government which is now offering a favored status to one religion. Hobby Lobby can avail itself of the benefits of religious exemptions previously extended to the church but denied to secular organizations. How is that possible where the separation of Church and State is the very principle that is necessary for a Democracy to exist?

In his statement; Alito believes corporations have the right to exercise religious beliefs – and that right demands protection. The court majority takes it as a given that a corporation, and not the literal people in it, can attend worship services, pray, contemplate moral quandaries, read scriptural texts, and reach spiritual conclusions that now include what medications their employees can avail themselves of through their healthcare plans. And that right trumps the individual rights of its employees to exercise their own religious beliefs or non-beliefs, in favor of those held by the owners.  A  persons religious or political or philosophical beliefs belong to him. He doesn’t surrender them for the privilege of working for Hobby Lobby. Forced to do so, Hobby Lobby would be openly guilty of violation of the Civil Rights Act Title VII which prohibits discrimination in the work place with regards to among other things; Religion.  Assuming that Corporations are People Too, when may we expect to see a corporation playing Tight End for the Patriots, or second base for the Cubs? If a corporation is responsible for the deaths of people using their product, are they capable of receiving the death penalty in a place like Texas? Can a Corporation run for public office? In a place where torture is redefined as “enhanced interrogation”, I suppose anything is possible.

Alito stated this; “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law.” This is hard to digest since corporate law has actually said the exact opposite. The Constitutional Accountability Center’s Doug Kendall specifically noted in a press statement, “For the first time in our nation’s history, the Supreme Court has ruled that for-profit corporations have religious rights and have accorded them religious exemptions. Despite their attempts to qualify that ruling, it opens the floodgates to claims by corporations for religious exemptions.”

Alito is fairly explicit on this point, saying, “Our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate” and does not apply to corporations that may raise religious objections to “vaccinations and blood transfusions.”

Ahh…so there he qualifies this ruling as only applicable to contraception;  a direct shot at the Affordable Care Act which he opposed . Justice Alito it appears, is not above playing politics. This presents a very tricky situation. If any degree of logic has been used to come to this decision, then what Alito is telling us is that Logic is arbitrary. It applies when we decide it’s useful to achieve a particular result, but denied in all other circumstances. In other words, the “Ends justify the Means”.

By what reasoning do the five conservatives conclude that a Corporate Person’s objections to contraception are more legitimate than a Corporate Person’s objections to blood transfusions? What is the logic that is being used to come up with this? Apparently, it’s true because Alito says it is.

According to Justice Ginsberg; “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.’ The Court, I fear has ventured into a minefield.”

The issue is ridiculous for the simple unavoidable fact that the first Amendment, (Religious Liberty) which Hobby Lobby and of course the Conservative Republicans; which would include the majority of the members of the SCOTUS,  are claiming is their basis, clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof“.

The First Amendment forbids not only establishments, but also any law respecting or relating to an establishment. Most importantly, it forbids any law respecting an establishment of “religion.” It does not say “a religion,” “a national religion,” “one sect or society,” or “any particular denomination of religion.” It is religion generically that may not be established.

Examine this phrase:

  • Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Clearly the example  makes no sense on its own. It must refer back to the establishment clause to get its meaning. When a Conservative  stands on his soap box and preaches “Whatever happened to the first amendment right to Free Exercise of Religion?”; he says this being completely oblivious to the wording of the amendment he is citing. His argument is over birth control, which is not a religion. However, he’s framed it as such. He is claiming birth control violates his religious beliefs and his freedom of expression. However, when he cites the free exercise of religion , he must refer back to the establishment clause for his definition.

The establishment clause does more than ban the federal government from establishing religion; it bars even laws respecting establishment.

The Supreme Court’s decision violates the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

  The First Amendment does not say that Congress shall not establish a religion or create an establishment of religion. It says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. Whether “respecting” means honoring or concerning, the clause means that Congress shall make no law on that subject. The ban is not just on establishments of religion but on laws respecting them, a fact that allows a law to fall short of creating an establishment yet still be unconstitutional.

The Free Exercise Clause not only protects religious belief and expression; it also seems to allow for violation of laws, as long as that violation is made for religious reasons.  In the terms of economic  theory, the Free Exercise Clause promotes a free religious market by precluding taxation of religious activities by minority sects. They rise or fall on their own merits without the table being tilted by the government. Constitutional scholars and even Supreme Court opinions have contended that the two religion clauses are in conflict. As mentioned previously, the Free Exercise Clause implies special accommodation of religious ideas and actions, even to the point of exemptions to generally applicable laws. Such a special benefit seems to violate the neutrality between “religion and non-religion” mandated by the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause actually trumps the Free Ex clause.  In 1940, the SCOTUS said this:

Freedom of religion embraces two concepts, – freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be”. Cantwell v. Connecticut

Obviously, a person cannot engage in murder and claim that his religion calls for human sacrifice, and he’s simply engaged in the Free Exercise of his religious beliefs. There are limits to what we may see as Free expression of our beliefs. You may believe anything. You may not expect a free pass to act on those beliefs.  Free Exercise is not absolute.

An overlooked aspect of the free exercise clause which is a blind spot among  Conservative/Republicans, is that it looks back to the establishment clause for its definition of “religion.” This is why scholars and even the court itself have made the argument that the two clauses act against each other and present a paradox. The establishment clause says that Congress may make no law respecting an establishment of “religion,” while the free exercise clause says that Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise “thereof.” Logically, the word “thereof” must have the same content as the object to which it refers. Accordingly, what counts as “religion” for one clause must count as “religion” for the other.

The free exercise clause makes no sense unless the word “religion” is read to encompass more than a church, denomination, or sect. The state abridges free exercise when it interferes with only small parts of an individual’s religious practice. The state, for example, abridges free exercise when it tells students they cannot pray during school, even if it allows them complete freedom to practice all other aspects of their faith. Similarly, the state cannot tell a church it must provide contraception coverage even if the church is otherwise left free to use its property as it wishes. Private prayer and contraception are protected by the free exercise clause despite the fact that neither of these practices constitutes religions in and of themselves.

If prayer and contraception count as “religion” for the purposes of the free exercise clause, they must also count as “religion” for the purposes of the establishment clause. Just as the state abridges religion when it tells a student she cannot pray, so too does it establish religion when it requires prayer to be said in the schools. Just as the state abridges religion when it tells a church it must provide contraception coverage, so too does it establish religion when it makes a law that would deny contraception coverage to people outside the realm of the church , based on a religious exemption argument. The state does not cross the line to establishment only when it goes to the trouble and expense of setting up a state church; it crosses that line when it sets up any religious practice that constitutes “religion” for the purposes of free exercise. To the extent that Conservative/Republicans want to read the “thereof” in the free exercise clause broadly, they must also accept a broad reading of “religion” in the establishment clause.

This ruling is really a totally transparent attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act. It opens a loophole that you could drive a battleship through. It gives a religious or moral exemption to anything an employer may object to. To accept the logic and reasoning of Alito, if an employer decides that prayer cures all, then he could deny any kind of health care to his employees based on a religious or moral objection. It introduces government mandated discrimination based on religious or moral objections outside the title VII exemption of the Civil Rights Act for the church. If held as valid, then logically that same argument could be used for denying a veteran a job because the employer doesn’t believe in War, and it could also introduce discrimination based on a host of other moral or religious objections.

Discrimination appears to be a common thread running through conservatism. It appeals to a sense of individualism. But we live in a pluralistic society whether we like that or not. We all sacrifice certain amounts of our individualism in order to function in that society. The object is to balance that important sense of individuality within the framework of our society. We cannot function with 300 million people making decisions over what laws they will follow based on moral or religious objections.

We cooperate with each other in order to make that society work. To the extent that some of us are unwilling to make that effort, our nation is suffers the consequences. When your ideology is so all consuming that you cannot recognize its own built in fallibility as well as your own, the countries interests are never served. Only the interests of that ideology are being served. And why would anybody follow an ideology  that presents itself as infallibly true, but can never demonstrate why?


Larry Allen Brown

Brattleboro, VT

Chapter 10: Arabs

Chapter 10: Arabs.

Chapter 5

Hitching a ride on the Cultural Revolution
    After high school, I briefly attended Southern Illinois University. To this day, I have no idea why. I had no interest in anything the school had to offer at that time. By this time, I was immersed in music and I left after one semester to pursue music back in Chicago. After a year of knocking around with a local band, I moved to the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. My parents were now living there as my father was now working for the State Department. I was 20 years old, and I was there in one of the most extraordinary times of my life. It was 1968 and the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing along with an anti-war movement regarding Viet Nam. There were drugs everywhere and readily available for those interested in “dropping out” of conventional thinking. Racial animosity was disappearing among people my age, and harmony prevailed.  Then things erupted.
On February 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. delivers a sermon at his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta which will come to be seen as prophetic. His speech contains what amounts to his own eulogy. After his death, he says, “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody… that I tried to love and serve humanity,. Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major for peace… for righteousness.”
On April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. spends the day at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis working and meeting with local leaders on plans for his Poor People’s March on Washington to take place late in the month. At 6pm, as he greets the car and friends in the courtyard, King is shot with one round from a 30.06 rifle. He will be declared dead just an hour later at St. Joseph’s hospital. After an international man-hunt James Earl Ray will be arrested on June 27 in England, and convicted of the murder. Ray died in prison in 1998.
Robert Kennedy, hearing of the murder just before he is to give a speech in Indianapolis, IN, delivers a powerful extemporaneous eulogy in which he pleads with the audience “to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”
The King assassination sparks rioting in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Newark, Washington, D.C., and many others. Across the country 46 deaths will be blamed on the riots.
On June 4/5, on the night of the California Primary Robert Kennedy addresses a large crowd of
supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco. He has won victories in California and South Dakota and is confident that his campaign will go on to unite the many factions stressing the country. As he leaves the stage, at 12:13AM on the morning of the fifth, Kennedy is shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24 year old Jordanian living in Los Angeles. The motive for the shooting is apparently anger at several pro-Isreali speeches Kennedy had made during the campaign. The forty-two year old Kennedy dies in the early morning of June sixth.
On August 26, Mayor Richard Daley opens the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. While the convention moves haltingly toward nominating Hubert Humphrey for president, the city’s police attempt to enforce an 11 o’clock curfew. On that Monday night demonstrations are widespread, but generally peaceful. The next two days, however, bring increasing tension and violence to the situation.
August 28 By most accounts, on Wednesday evening Chicago police take action against crowds of demonstrators without provocation. The police beat some marchers unconscious and send at least 100 to emergency rooms while arresting 175.
Everything appeared to be out of control at this time. 1968 had seen the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Then came 1969, which author Rob Kirkpatrick calls “a year of extremes.”  It was a tumultuous time when it seemed as if history were being made almost every day:
•For the first time, gays fought back against the New York City police as they raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28.
•Camelot lost its luster when Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick on July 18. His young female passenger drowned.
•Neil Armstrong walked on the moon July 20, the first man to do so.
•Charles Manson’s followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others in Los Angeles on Aug. 8.
•Woodstock, the now-mythical music festival in upstate New York, began Aug. 15.
•Lt. William Calley was charged on Sept. 5 for his role in the 1968 My Lai Massacre, in which American soldiers slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese civilians.
•In an effort to bolster his standing amid protests against the Vietnam War, President Nixon delivered his “silent majority” speech on Nov. 3. Nixon was also employing something called “the Southern Strategy” which was designed to attract those that were dissatisfied with the Democratic Party which was now embracing Civil Rights as the foundation of their platform. If you opposed Civil Rights, then the Republican Party was for you.
Fortunately for me, my father was offered an assignment overseas with the State Dept. and asked if I wanted to move to the Philippines with them.  This would be an opportunity to live outside the country and reflect a bit on what I was looking for…which turned out to be myself. What I saw in the Philippines stunned me. I saw extremes of poverty and wealth. There was no middle class. These were the years of Ferdinand Marcos. They were years of brutal dictatorship. Of course the United States viewed the Marcos regime as a friend.  We always seemed to be friends of brutality.
I left the Philippines after a year, and moved to San Francisco. It was quite different. Discrimination seemed to be absent. Black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight…everyone worked with everyone. During this time it was still safe to hitch-hike and I took advantage of the opportunity. I was first hitching rides around the city, and into Marin County. Then a friend and I decided to hitch to Chicago. I had no idea what to expect. I’d never attempted anything on that scale before. With hardly a dime in my pocket, and a sandwich to eat, we stuck out our thumbs and headed east. We would part in Chicago and I would continue on to the east coast. My parents had returned to the states and I thought I’d make it there for their anniversary. It took a week, but I made it to Falls Church VA in time much to their surprise. Of course along the way I had a gun pointed at me in Nevada and was told to get a haircut. After a short visit I took a Grayhound back to San Francisco. I now felt I was experienced enough to try it again when the opportunity presented itself which it did about 3 months later. This time, I left San Jose and headed north through the Redwood Forest, to Portland, then Seattle and then up to Canada. Once there I got a great ride from a man who stopped and got me breakfast. We then proceeded to Revelstoke BC. I thanked him for the ride and headed to the youth hostel in town.  There were many young travelers and they told me it was rough getting a ride from there. Some people had been there for a week. But…there was another way. A freight train came right through town a block from the Hostel and it headed east. I could always hop the freight if I wanted to leave.
 Sure enough, within about an hour I heard the train coming into town. I grabbed my things and headed to the tracks where the train would roll through. It was moving too fast, but it was very long and began to slow down enough for me to run along-side it. It slowed even more and I could almost walk at the same speed. I found an open car and  climbed aboard, and hid up in the front of the car. The train slowed to a stop and I could hear some men walking up the track. They never checked the car and I was safe and ready for the next leg of this strange adventure.
After what seemed like about a half-hour, I could hear the sound of the cars being yanked in succession and the sound was getting closer. Finally the car I was in jerked into motion and we were moving.  As the train built its speed I ventured toward the back of the car and peered out to see what I could see. As I looked out I was astonished to see myself in the midst of the Canadian Rockies. The train was off the beaten path of highways and I could see waterfalls coming right out of a mountain. I couldn’t see either the front or the back of the train. It was very long. I watched the stars and the moon and the incredible mountains that only the engineers would see.  It was a magic carpet ride for sure.
It was getting colder and I retreated back into the car to keep warm and fell asleep. I woke up when I sensed the train was slowing down and it felt much colder and this was in the late summer. I went to the back of the car and peered out again, and I thought I was in the Alps. Huge snow- capped mountains everywhere and the train was slowing down. I was in Banff National Park and about to enter the small town of Banff. The train slowed enough as it entered the town, and I hopped off. I would continue on from here via my thumb.  I cleaned up at a public restroom and went into a café for something to eat. There I met three girls headed to St Paul. They offered me a ride and I was on my way to the states. From St. Paul I found a ride to Chicago where I had relatives. I spent the day with them and had a great steak dinner. Strip steaks that my uncle Barbequed. One of the best meals I can remember eating.  My cousin gave me a ride into Indiana and we spotted a driver with Pennsylvania plates and asked him for a ride to PA. I switched cars and headed to Pennsylvania. I got off in Somerset and from there another ride to Washington DC.  Again, the trip took a week and I look back on it as one of the great adventures of my life. I was 22 years old.
 I had grown up seeing bigotry and racism as a kid. I had travelled to the other side of the world and saw poverty and more bigotry. I’d lived in California and although my immediate environment seemed free of this ugliness, it was still there in abundance lurking just outside of my safe zone. I’d hitch-hiked across North America twice, and hopped a freight train taking me through some of the most beautiful sights that nature has to offer.  All of this had shaped me in some way that I still wasn’t completely certain of.  And although I was changing, and growing as a person, I was still existing in a hostile environment that fed off of prejudice, bigotry and hate.  I found that those that I knew were still immersed in this ideological prison that served as a convenient comfort zone for their ignorance. They were older, and certainly had different experiences than I had, and yet…they were still consumed by a narrow minded belief system that stunted their growth and perpetuated a divisive ideology.  Instead of opening their minds to what people had in common, their minds appeared closed to those that they determined were different and therefore a threat.  Ideologies are like that. They never admit new information. How can you grow, if you think you know,  all there is to know?
The old familiar “dog-whistles” were there, including the scapegoating of others in order to mollify their own inadequacies.  The more things had changed, the more they stayed the same.
Chapter 4
Growing up
 My family moved from all white Forest Park, to all white Westchester Illinois which was another town that made up Proviso Township. My parents weren’t deliberately looking for a white neighborhood. They simply wanted a nice house with a good school.  They weren’t concerned with the color of their neighbors skin. There I attended Junior High School, and found the very same attitudes.  During the seventh grade, I had a Social Studies teacher that seemed to spend an entire month on the virtues of the  country of South Africa. I learned about the “heroic” Afrikaners that kept the black majority under their racist rule. That very same teacher staged a ridiculous production of “Little Black Sambo” for the PTA. One of my best friends had the starring role, black-face and all. He was carefully coached to speak his lines in an over-the-top exaggerated “black” dialect.  It was hideous.  All the kids in my graduating class would be attending West High which was all white. Not because it was officially segregated,  but simply because blacks didn’t live in the villages that were in that district. It was actually economic segregation.  During my last year of Junior High, my parents were looking to move once again, and I begged them to find a house that was within East High district. All my family had attended that school. All my Aunts, Uncles, both parents and my brother went there. I wanted the same experience. East High was also already integrated with kids coming from Maywood where the school was located. Most of my friends were bigots as were their parents. None of them could understand why I’d want to go to school with the “N”’s. They never imagined I wouldn’t want to go to school with them.
 I entered High School in 1962. We had an enrollment of around 4,000 and about 35% were African-American. There were never any incidents at the school involving race relations. Not then at least. That would come later. There was one incident that caught my attention. It was the Senior Prom. The star athlete was a handsome black guy. He was taking a pretty white girl to the prom. The Administration wouldn’t allow it. So, my brother and his girlfriend, double dated with them. They skipped the Prom, and they went to Second City in Chicago and caught a show and then a dinner at a nice restaurant. I thought that was pretty cool of my brother.  I looked up to him a lot. He always set a good example for me to follow.
The Civil Rights movement was beginning to take hold and I was immersing myself in folk music and blues music as opposed the pop of the time (although I was taken completely by the Beatles).  In 1964 word came that three Civil Rights Workers were murdered in Neshoba County Mississippi just outside of the town of Philidelphia. (Hardly the “City of Brotherly Love” that we know about).
The following provides historical context for the first installment that appeared in the print edition of the Neshoba Democrat on April 28, 2004.— Jim Prince
“On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers were murdered in Neshoba County. The trio had come here to investigate the burning of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church in the Longdale community off of Mississippi 16 east.
 The night the church was burned three parishioners were beaten, some severely. The murders of Michael Schwerner, 24, James Chaney, 21, and Andrew Goodman, 20, were part of a plot hatched by the Lauderdale County unit of the Ku Klux Klan and carried out by members of the Neshoba County unit.
The civil rights workers were part of a broader national movement that hoped to begin a voter
registration drive in this area, part of the Mississippi Summer Project, what became known as Freedom Summer.
A coalition of civil rights organizations known as COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) conceived of a project in the state with massive numbers of student volunteers who would converge on the state to register black voters and to conduct “freedom schools” which would offer curriculum of black history and arts to children throughout the state.
Chaney, a plasterer, had grown up in Meridian, in nearby Lauderdale County, and even as a young student had been interested in civil rights work. Schwerner, a Jewish New Yorker, came south to Meridian to set up the COFO office because he believed he could help prevent the spread of hate that had resulted in the Holocaust, an event that had taken the lives of some of his family. (this obviously struck a nerve with me)
 Chaney volunteered at the Meridian office, and the two young men began to make visits to Neshoba County to find residents there to sponsor voter registration drives and freedom schools. They made contact with members of Mt. Zion Methodist Church and Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church, as well as other individuals. They made plans for a COFO project in the area.
Tensions were mounting that summer as some of Mississippi’s segregationist newspapers propagated the idea of a “pending invasion” of civil rights workers. The state was a powder keg, as the Ku Klux Klan increasingly made its presence known and fears were heightened among both blacks and whites. In April 1964 the Klan burned about a dozen crosses in Neshoba County. The Neshoba Democrat spoke against the cross burnings and the coercion and intimidation employed by the Klan.
The Ku Klux Klan and other groups had become more active in response to increasing civil rights activity, especially since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation. In addition to the Klan’s resistance, the state of Mississippi was continuing to monitor activists through the Sovereignty Commission, which worked in conjunction with the White Citizens Council, to use economic intimidation and threats to attempt to keep blacks in subservient positions.
Undertaking such struggles for equality, exemplified by the trio was dangerous and courageous work. In mid-June, Chaney and Schwerner traveled to Oxford, Ohio, to participate in the Freedom Summer volunteers training session being held there. While they were away, on June 16, Klansman assaulted members of the Mt. Zion church, looking for Chaney and Schwerner. Later in the evening, they burned the church to the ground. Having been alerted of the attack, Chaney and Schwerner, joined by new volunteer Goodman immediately drove south to investigate and offer solace to the church members.
On Sunday afternoon, June 21, Father’s Day, the three young men drove to Philadelphia from Meridian and visited members of Mt. Zion. On the way back through town they were pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy. Chaney was charged with speeding and Schwerner and Goodman were held on suspicion of burning the Mt. Zion church.”
The details of the murders came later. The group took the activists to a remote area and beat them until they died. Special treatment, however, was reserved for James Chaney, the one black in the group. The Klansmen, in addition to beating Chaney, also used a small handgun to shoot him through his penis and anus, ostensibly because he “knew better” than to be consorting with outside agitators looking to change the status quo in Mississippi. After several weeks of searching, and after recovering more than a dozen bodies not belonging to the missing civil rights workers, the authorities finally found them buried under an earthen dam. Several Klansmen, including Price, were arrested and tried for the brutal killings. The jury, made up of their cousins, friends, and sympathizers, found them all NOT GUILTY. Some time later, the federal government charged the murderers with violating the civil rights of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. This time the Klansmen were convicted and served sentences ranging from two to ten years. And that…was called justice.
News of this nature was beginning to have its effect on the black students at my school and I felt
ashamed and helpless to stop the mistrust that had to be taking place. Still during my time there, our affections for each other were quite open. We were all friends in school and competed on sports teams together, even though we tended to go our separate ways outside of the school environment. By my senior year, two African-American girls were elected to the Home Coming Queens court. One of the girls was in several of my classes. She was a friend and much loved by everyone at school. She’d laugh at your stupid jokes and listen to your boring stories. She was a classical violinist and her father was a doctor. I voted for her, as did most of the kids in school, but she somehow wasn’t selected as Queen. She went on to study music at the University of Illinois, and later married a man named Robert Johnson. Together they founded BET and she became the first African-American female billionaire. Her name is Sheila Crump Johnson.
I graduated Proviso East High School in 1966 and the next year something happened that was bound to happen sooner or later. Proviso East was pretty famous for an illustrious alumni that included, NBA Basketball stars Jim Brewer, Doc Rivers (coach of the Boston Celtics) All Star Michael Finley, NFL Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke, actor Dennis Franz, business woman Sheila Crump Johnson, Grammy winning folk singer John Prine,  and US astronaut Eugene Cernan…the last human to walk on the moon.
Proviso East was caught up in a great deal of the racial turmoil that was prevalent in the country in the late 1960s. The 1967-68 school year saw local tensions become violent.
In September 1967, a large fight, started in the school cafeteria when five aucasian girls were selected by school officials as finalists for the school’s Homecoming Queen, escalated as students were dismissed. Property damage, some caused by the use of gasoline bombs, and fighting caused more than 100 state troopers to be called in, and a strict curfew to be enforced. Principal Hubert Pitt announced that he would appoint a racially balanced group of students to select a new slate of candidates. Apparently after selecting two African-American girls just the year before, the school administration had decided not to let something like that happen again. God forbid one of them be elected Queen.
One of my classmates was Fred Hampton. He graduated with me in 1966. Although black and white students at Proviso East rarely mixed socially outside of classes, because of his popularity among both groups, Fred was selected to be head of the Inter-racial Council, which met whenever there was racial friction. Fred could always calm the situation.  The year after we graduated, the principal called Fred back to ease the growing racial tensions.
Fred promoted Black Power. The response of the media and most whites to the term Black Power was swift, negative, and over the top hysterical. Many saw Black Power as an attack on all white people. Blacks saw it differently. It was about a positive message to them (the black community), to bring blacks together and build their confidence.  Fred said that “blackness was what was in your  heart, not the color of your skin”. But any symbol of black unity, including the modest Afro that Fred wore, threatened many whites.  By 1967, Fred was put on the FBI’s Key Agitator Index;  a list of activists that FBI director J. Edgar  Hoover ordered FBI agents to monitor closely.  Fred became a leader of the Black Panther movement in Chicago. He was killed in a police raid on Panther headquarters in October of 1969. Like Emmett Till before him, his body was viewed at the Raynor Funeral Home in Chicago.

Chapter 3

Emmett Till


      I read a story in the Chicago Tribune about a local boy named Emmett Till. He was a Negro (as African-Americans were called then). What happened to him hit me between the eyes like a hammer. I was 7 years old at the time. Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi on August 24, 1955 when he reportedly flirted with a white cashier at a grocery store.  Four days later, two white men kidnapped Till, beat him, and shot him in the head.  The men were tried for murder, but an all-white, male jury acquitted them. Till’s murder and open casket funeral galvanized the emerging civil rights movement.
In August 1955; Till’s great uncle Moses Wright came up from Mississippi to visit the family in Chicago. At the end of his stay, Wright was planning to take Till’s cousin, Wheeler Parker, back to Mississippi with him to visit relatives down South, and when Till learned of these plans he begged his mother to let him go along. Initially, Till’s mother said no. She wanted to take a road trip to Omaha, Nebraska and attempted to lure Till to join her with the promise of open-road driving lessons. But Till desperately wanted to spend time with his cousins in Mississippi, and in a fateful decision that would have grave impact on their lives and the course of American history, Till’s mother relented and let him go.
On August 19, 1955—the day before Till left with his uncle and cousin for Mississippi—Mamie Till gave her son his late father’s signet ring, engraved with the initials L.T. The next day she drove her son to the 63rd Street station in Chicago. They kissed goodbye, and Till boarded a southbound train headed for Mississippi. It was the last time they ever saw each other.
Three days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, on August 24, 1955, Emmett Till and a group of teenagers entered Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market to buy refreshments after a long day picking cotton in the hot afternoon sun. What exactly transpired inside the grocery store that afternoon will never be known. Till purchased bubble gum, and some of the kids with him would later report that he either whistled at, flirted with, or touched the hand of the store’s white female clerk—and wife of the owner—Carolyn Bryant.
Four days later, at approximately 2:30 in the morning on August 28, 1955, Roy Bryant, Carolyn’s husband, and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till from Moses Wright’s home. They then beat the teenager brutally, dragged him to the bank of the Tallahatchie River, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan and shoved his mutilated body into the water. Moses Wright reported Till’s disappearance to the local authorities, and three days later his corpse was pulled out of the river.
Till’s face was mutilated beyond recognition, and Wright only managed to positively identify him by the ring on his finger, engraved with his father’s initials, L.T. Till’s body was shipped to Chicago, where his mother opted to have an open-casket funeral with Till’s body on display for five days. Thousands of people came to the Roberts Temple Church of God to see the evidence of this brutal hate crime. Till’s mother said that, despite the enormous pain it caused her to see her son’s dead body on display, she opted for an open-casket funeral to “let the world see what has happened, because there is no way I could describe this. And I needed somebody to help me tell what it was like.”
In the weeks that passed between Till’s burial and the murder and kidnapping trial of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, two black publications, Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender, published graphic images of Till’s corpse.  By the time the trial commenced on September 19, Emmett Till’s murder had become a source of outrage and indignation throughout much of the country. Because blacks and women were barred from serving jury duty, Bryant and Milam were tried before an all-white, all-male jury. In an act of extraordinary bravery, Moses Wright took the stand and identified Bryant and Milam as Till’s kidnappers and killers. At the time, it was almost unheard of for blacks to openly accuse whites in court, and by doing so Wright put his own life in grave danger.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the defendants’ guilt and widespread pleas for justice from outside Mississippi, on September 23 the panel of white male jurors acquitted Bryant and Milam of all charges. Their deliberations lasted a mere 67 minutes. Only a few months later, in January 1956, Bryant and Milam admitted to committing the crime. Protected by double jeopardy laws, they told the whole story of how they kidnapped and killed Emmett Till to Look magazine for $4,000.

Coming only one year after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education mandated the end of racial segregation in public schools, Till’s death provided an important catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement. One hundred days after Emmett Till’s murder, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama city bus, sparking the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott. Nine years later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing many forms of racial discrimination and segregation, one year later it passed the Voting Rights Act outlawing discriminatory voting practices.
Although she never stopped feeling the pain from her son’s death, Mamie Till (who died of heart failure in 2003) also recognized that what happened to Emmett Till helped open Americans’ eyes to the racial hatred plaguing their country, and in doing so helped spark a massive protest movement for racial equality and justice. Before Till’s murder, she said, “people really didn’t know that things this horrible could take place. And the fact that it happened to a child, that make all the difference in the world.”
The images that came to my mind at that time, couldn’t even begin to come close to what I saw some years later. The pictures of Emmett Till lying in an open casket seared an indelible scar in my mind. He was unrecognizable as a human being. Mamie Till demanded that her son’s body be returned to Chicago. She defied orders of the Mississippi authorities, who had sealed his casket, and ordered that it be opened. Her son’s mutilated face displayed to the entire world what Southern racism had done.
Thousands of Chicagoans walked by the open casket in 1955 at the Raynor Funeral Home, aghast at what they saw. Years later,  Rosa Parks told Mamie Till that the photograph of her son, Emmett’s disfigured face in the casket was set in her mind when she refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus.

There were three lynching’s in Mississippi in 1955. All of them made the news up north.  I was a very young boy, and I was already aware of what hatred was capable of doing to people. I knew of the Holocaust in Germany and I knew of the horror that faced blacks right in my own country if they stepped “out of line” in the deep south.  I also knew that I detested bigotry and racism and those that practiced it should never be trusted. Something had to change, and that kind of change comes from inside of people.  They have to want to change, and I saw far too many that simply didn’t want to do that. They know it’s wrong, but try to find ways to justify it so they can convince themselves of their own righteousness.  It was at this time that I lost all interest in religion.

Chapter 1

I was born in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park Illinois, on December 10, 1947. My father; Donald, was a Christian of Irish and German decent. His family roots in America date back to at least the Civil War period and they lived in the north. I had a Great Grandmother named O’Neil, a tiny woman from Ireland who owned a boarding house in Evanston during the Depression years. Someone from his family had served in the Union Army as I was told, most likely on my paternal Grandfather’s side.

My mother, Marilyn, was a second generation American. Her mother was born in London and her father was from Bucharest Romania. Both of them came to America as children and both of Jewish decent. Both families settled in the small blue-collar, very white town of Forest Park, Illinois west of Chicago. My father’s family was originally Catholic. He was raised by his grandparents, and they were religiously indifferent and didn’t actually care about where he went to church as long as he went somewhere. All of his friends were Lutheran and he simply went where they went. And so, he was now a Lutheran.

My mother, while being born into a Jewish family did something unheard of. As a young girl around the age of 12, she converted to Christianity. This obviously didn’t go over well in the family, but she was adamant about it and remained a devout Christian for the remainder of her life.

As they were growing up in this small town, my mother had her group of friends, and my father had his. Both groups knew each other and began dating in high school. They finished high school in 1940 and the boys married the girls and went off to fight in World War II. After the war, they returned to their lives in Forest Park and started their families. The town was all white and stayed that way for many years.

This is where the confusion began, and my entire life has been spent living in the middle of two very separate worlds. My mother’s parents refused to recognize the marriage of their daughter to a non-Jew and couldn’t accept my father. Neither of my parents cared, and assumed correctly that time would have a way of solving the divide. When first my brother, and then I arrived on the scene, my grandparents had found a way to see through the problem of their own prejudice. The innocence of a baby has a way of cutting through bigotry.

As a very young child, we lived in a two-flat building owned by my maternal grandparents. They lived on the top floor, and we lived on the first floor. I spent almost every day upstairs with my grandmother who secretly introduced me to coffee. It smelled so good, and she would always prepare a glass of milk with coffee and sugar in it and tell me not to tell my mother. It was our secret, and I was thrilled to have a secret with my grandma.

My first awareness that something was different was at family gatherings. I was only about 4 years old at the time, but this was a time when I was introduced to my cousins and we would play together at every opportunity, which for the most part would take place at Thanksgiving. We would generally have these gatherings at my grandparents place upstairs. I loved all my relatives on my mother’s side, and they would always pay special attention to me and my older brother, but I noticed certain customs that I was unfamiliar with. At this time, I was walking up the alley which was very safe and only one block, to the church where I would attend Sunday school and where my mother sang in the choir. My father was not very religious and when he went to church, he generally slept through the service, sometimes even snoring to the embarrassment of my mother who sat with the choir. I would spend those mornings in Sunday school learning about David and Goliath, King Solomon, and the story of Jesus. At Christmas we learned the little hymns and at Easter we’d learn some more. But during our family gatherings, my uncles and cousins and even my brother and I had to wear the Yarmulke and stand with the men and listen to prayers in a language that I didn’t understand.

I was unaware of what being Jewish was, but I knew there was something different going on. My own family never adopted any of the rituals that seemed so important to my mother’s relatives. We were invited into that world and we would be respectful of it. The only thing I really learned was Oi Veh which was a “catch all” phrase, and that chicken soup cured the common cold.

At Christmas, an entirely different set of traditions was in place. We would get together with my father’s family, and they were all Lutherans. We always had a Christmas tree, and celebrated that special day with a great dinner and gifts under a tree. My other cousins celebrated something called Hanukkah and lit candles.

So here I was, at the age of 5 with two entirely different sets of rituals and traditions and in some cases even languages. But I loved both sets of relatives and knew they were integral to who I was. My identity was embraced by both groups. These were my people, and I was loyal to my people. One group, I could trace back to the civil war. The other…went back to the time of Moses.


Chapter 2
Early Years
       As I grew up, I found friends to play with in Forest Park. The town was small enough where everyone knew everyone else. Most of the families had deep roots in that town, and everyone knew your parents, so, if you got in trouble, it would get back to your folks quickly and you’d pay the price of your foolishness.
This was my first experience with prejudice. None of my friends knew about my odd mixture of family. I went to the local Protestant church and with a very simple name like Brown, it was assumed that I was like the rest of my friends; White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Many of my friends were Catholic and although I found their rituals somewhat confusing we all played together in Little League and enjoyed spending the summer in the local pool. They had things in their house like “Holy Water”, and they had to go to confession which seemed weird to me. Also it was a sin to not go to church on Sunday. They had their own schools and the nuns looked scary. The priests spoke Latin, and I wasn’t allowed to go inside their church if I wasn’t a Catholic. They also had a bunch of saints and I didn’t understand any of that. I reasoned that I could never be a Catholic. It was way too complicated. If you were a Catholic, you really took the rituals seriously.  My dad slept through church services.  There was no way we could ever be Catholic. 
Some of my friends began using slurs to describe people. They would utter anti-Semitic epithets in my presence thinking that as one of them, I would be in on the joke and find humor in their ugliness. I didn’t. They were hideous descriptions of my own family, and I found myself in many a fight back then. I was a pretty tough little kid back then, and I always won those fights. If you insulted my family, you paid with a bloody nose.  I was keenly aware of the Holocaust that had taken place in Germany just 10 years earlier. What was this animosity toward the Jews all about? They couldn’t understand why I would take offense at their lame attempt at racist humor. After all… I was as white and Christian as they were. There was something alien about this. My understanding of Christianity was completely different than what I was hearing from those claiming to be Christians. However, it wasn’t limited to the Jews.  In fact, it got uglier. 
My only experience with black people at this time came from watching Amos and Andy and listening to my parent’s records of Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and others that I might have seen on TV.  There were no African-Americans in Forest Park Illinois back then. So, I was entertained by them, and offered the stereotyped caricatures of servants, and cab drivers, and a few super athletes. There were black people in neighboring Maywood and the local high school was integrated.  But prior to high school, my own experience with African-Americans was very limited. I rarely saw any in person. But the words describing them were painful to hear and burned my ears. I was always a champion for the underdog. I even became a Cubs fan and my favorite player was Ernie Banks. The “N” word was forbidden in my home. In fact, it was forbidden outside my home. If either of my parents heard that I’d used that word, life as I knew it would come to an end. It was understood to be vile and never to be used in any context. I would be facing the wrath of God Himself if that word came out of my mouth. And I believed it. I had been taught the Golden Rule when I was old enough to actually converse with my mother, and nothing in my religion or any religion could distill the truth as much as that simple concept. If I understood that, and lived by that axiom, everything else would always be clear to me. 
However, my friends used the “N” word freely. I was called “N-lover” when I would admonish anyone using that word. When they used that word, they were insulting and literally spitting on the lives of the great Ernie Banks, and Jackie Robinson and they were Hero’s to me. I was already sensitive to anti-Semitism, and saw this as coming from the very same attitude that was held by people that I found ugly. Their ugliness was revealed in their words, and their words told me what they thought of people who were different from them. I didn’t like them, and I didn’t like them thinking that I was anything like them.  I may have been white, and I may have been a Christian, but I was nothing like them.  Nor would I have wanted to be. Even at my young age, I found racism a sign of ignorance and stupidity and that was something I found scary. Hate was a dangerous thing when it was left unchallenged. Ignorant and stupid people do ignorant and stupid things, and people get hurt along the way.  I was beginning to hear about lynchings in the south. Three took place in 1955. I knew what those were, but to me, they were something from the old west. It was old history and not part of my era.
The ideology behind lynching, directly connected with denial of political and social equality, was stated forthrightly by Benjamin Tillman, a South Carolina governor and senator, speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1900: 
We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.” 
Often victims were lynched by a small group of white vigilantes late at night. Sometimes, however, lynchings became mass spectacles with a circus-like atmosphere because they were intended to emphasize majority power. Children often attended these public lynchings. A large lynching might be announced beforehand in the newspaper. There were cases in which a lynching was timed so that a newspaper reporter could make his deadline. Photographers sold photos for postcards to make extra money. The event was publicized so that the intended audience of African Americans and whites who might challenge the society, were  warned to stay in their places. I learned that a person like myself might not be safe in certain places of this country. When the majority of people were hateful, you’d better be hateful too, or you’d become a target of that hate. In August of 1955, that became all too real.

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