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The People Called Baptists
By George W. McDaniel


      We have been passing through unusual times. The war has changed many things - some for better and some for worse. The government has insisted upon the subordination of everything else to one object, "the winning of the war." Right loyally have the people complied. They have surrendered their individual rights, sacrificed their own interests, and suppressed their own convictions in order that the government might have a free hand in carrying out its program. Where our people could not commend, they have kept silent. All this is indubitable proof of their patriotism. It is a refutation of the charge that democracy cannot co-ordinate and concentrate for a huge task.

      Such submission to governmental authorities in time of war, however, does not signify that we have ceased to think for ourselves; nor is it to be interpreted as indicating that

we have forgotten our religious rights and privileges in the American system; nor does it mean that we have permanently foregone the guaranteed right of free speech. If we have submitted where protest was unavailing, it was only for the time being. Now that the war is practically over, we may, with propriety, and must, in justice to our conscience, give expression to our convictions.

      In general it may be said that the government in a military situation enters into a field in which it has no concern in normal civil life, namely, that of religion. Entering this field to meet a national emergency, the obligation is imperative to deal with all religious organizations in a spirit of scrupulous equity. To practice or allow any discrimination in such case is just as much a violation of the principles of religious liberty as if the government were to attempt in civil life to regulate the religious life of the people.

      The government violated the priceless principle of "equal rights to all and special privileges to none" by admitting Roman Catholic organizations into the camps and excluding Episcopalians, Baptists, et al. The ground

or this action, we have heard, was that the Y. M. C. A. represented the Protestant denominations, though accredited denominational representatives were not consulted in the adoption of the plan. It ignored the fact, however, that to a Baptist his message is just as precious and vital as the creed of the Roman Catholic is to the Catholic. It permitted the denomination which stands for the authority of the "church" to have access to the soldiers, and denied that right to the denomination which stands for the authority of the Bible. It discriminated in favor of the Roman Catholics and against the Baptists and others. As an Episcopalian bishop recently said in my hearing, having his own denomination in mind: "The church should have the right to follow her children. The government called our children into the service and then said to the spiritual mother, 'You cannot follow and minister to them as a church.' "That, I say respectfully, was going beyond the government's real authority and violating the principle laid down in the Bill of Rights and incorporated in the Constitution of the United States. It was a reversal of the policy of the
government which permitted voluntary preaching to soldiers in the Revolutionary and Confederate Wars.

      Another instance of governmental meddling in religious and discrimination in favor of the Catholics was the order to merge the war service funds. If the Catholics were to be recognized as sufficiently separate and distinct and apart from others to be given special privileges in the camps, why should they be united with others when a campaign was to be made for funds? Had the Baptists been permitted to have their buildings in the camps they would have erected them and maintained them and would have provided the funds without asking the government or anybody else to aid them. The government gave access to the Catholics and denied it to the Baptists, and then violated its own rule, on which it admitted the Catholics, by lumping them with other war work activities when money was needed. Those who read know that this was not the original program, but that it was brought about after the Knights of Columbus held a meeting, in which they protested to the government and in some way

influenced the President to change his mind and merge the funds. Why is it that Catholic protests are effective at the White House and Baptist protests are not? If the Baptists were not a people seven millions strong, if they were only one million or one thousand strong, that would not invalidate their rights under the Constitution. Fair treatment should be given to every denomination, irrespective of its size. It is antagonistic to the very principle of separation of Church and State for any church, particularly the one which constantly meddles in State affairs, to be given preference by civil authorities. Baptists ask no special favors of the government; they ask only their inherent rights, their constitutional privileges, and they will be satisfied with nothing else.

      Gladstone once said that it was the duty of the government "to make it easy for people to do right." The government made it hard for Baptists to do their duty by the moral wel- fare of the men in the service, when it not merely approved, but practically originated and forced a joint campaign, by which Baptists had to give to Roman Catholic

propaganda, or be misjudged by their fellow citizens as penurious, bigoted and unpatriotic. It is not the point to say that the United War Work Campaign was a success. The machinery employed in that campaign and the patriotic temper of our people would make anything a success. Success does not validate wrong or injustice. The Catholics should have made the effort alone in raising funds for their special work, since they had sought and secured recognition by the government as being distinct from all others. The truth is, their failure to secure the amount sought in their first campaign made them apprehensive lest they should fail in a second. They used the opportunity in the united campaign to exploit their exaggerated numbers and proclaim their patriotism. They were the only ones in the joint meetings, so far as I heard, who had the poor taste to parade statistics and advertise the loyalty of their "church" in America. If some of us counted as they do, we would astound ourselves and others with startling statistics.

      There is no need to say that the Catholic organization in the camps was not a

propaganda. We know better. If it were not a propaganda, how did it come about that in one camp in the South a priest proselyted eighty-odd Protestant young men; that in another camp a priest strung beads around a dying Protestant in the hospital and received him into the Roman Catholic Church before he died; that numbers of our young men whose eyes were open and who were alert to the insidious methods of Romanists have said personally or in letters that the Catholics were working for their ends, and that outsiders did not realize what they were doing; that Romanist services in the camps were featured and a press publicity given to them out of proportion to their importance and sometimes to the disparagement and neglect of Protestant services? The government might have known, from the whole history of the Romanists, what they would do under the special rights granted them in the camps. Propfessing to discountenance sectarianism in the army, the government made the egregious blunder of admitting to special privileges the most sectarian of the sects. The Romanists could not be true to their religion without
propaganda and proselytism. They think that all outside of their church are lost, whether they be Presbyterians, Methodists, or what not, and they are conscientiously bound to put forth every effort to bring all others into their church.

      Last of all came the proposal for a "Liberty Church" in the "Ordnance Reservations." These reservations are owned, or controlled, by the government for the making of explosives. The government admitted the Roman Catholics and the Jews to these reservations and said to all the other denominations, "You cannot come in except through the 'Liberty Church.'" "Liberty" is a misnomer. The rules for governing that "Church" show that it represents anything but "liberty." It is so regulated and restricted that the constituent members do not control. It is also an attempt at amalgamation, and, as Bishop Thompson said in a conference at Newport News, there is danger of "chemical reaction."

      The government said bluntly that it is "impossible" to admit the denominations to these reservations. Why impossible? Take Penniman, for example - an ordnance

reservation six miles from Williamsburg, Virginia. One-half of the eight thousand people at Penniman were Baptists, or from Baptist families, or of Baptist inclination. They said so by cards which they signed in the religious census of Penniman. Yet the Roman Catholics, who represented only a small per cent., were allowed to function at Penniman, and the Baptists, who represented fully half of the people, were forbidden. The government urged people to move to these reservations and work on munitions. Baptists responded and took their wives and children and set up family life in the reservation, and the government prescribed that they should not have a church. Where is the common sense, or the law, or the justice in this? The government proposes to use certain of these plants as industrial reservations and perpetuate the injustice to Baptists that it perpetrated in time of war.

      The promoter of the "Liberty Church," a very amiable and earnest gentleman, by the way, said, perhaps inadvertently, in the Newport News conference, that it was hoped that when the war was over there would come

about from these "Liberty Churches" an interchange of church membership and open communion. The Baptist State Mission Board of Virginia sent a committee to the conference on the "Liberty Church," in- structed to present the following resolutions:

      1. We are earnestly desirous of co-operating in every possible way in caring for the religious life of the people in and round the ordnance reservations.

      2. We consider the proposed plan of the "Liberty Church" undesirable and impracticable.

      3. In our judgment, if the denominations are not to be permitted to function separately in the reservations, the object aimed at can be better attained by and through the Y. M. C. A.

      4. We are ready to secure and contribute a fair percentage of such funds as may be necessary to support a Y. M. C. A. in each ordnance reservation.

      It developed that the Episcopalians were almost as averse to the "Liberty Church" as were the Baptists. A bishop referred to the government's infringement upon religious

freedom for which they had fought and, turning to a Baptist, he said, "and the Baptists also." We were glad to know that the Episcopalians were jealous for religious freedom and that they interpreted the proposal of the "Liberty Church" much as we did. It should make no headway. Why cannot the government see that it is best for the government and for the denominations and for all the people, to leave them free in the exercise of their religion? We shall prosper most under such a government. The denominations could function in a reservation of ten thousand people with as little friction as they do in a town of ten thousand people. If the government could only realize that it is not competent to manage the religion of the people it would escape many a blunder.

      More than ever is one convinced of the wisdom of the Baptist position and the necessity for presenting our views clearly and forcefully and fraternally. As we once took the lead in winning and establishing religious freedom we should now take the lead in clarifying and preserving it. We might waive the declarations of our Baptist people under

the old regime of religious oppression; we might leave others to narrate our struggles for entire separation of Church and State and confine the issue to just one question: "Shall the government abide by the will of the people as incorporated in the laws of the States and Nation?" On that issue we would submit that all the Bills of Rights provide for full freedom of religious opinion and worship, and for equality before the law of all religious denominations and their members; and many forbid the establishment of any particular church or sect, and declare that no public money ought to be applied in aid of any religious body or sectarian institution.

      Furthermore, we would submit that the Constitution specifies that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Congress is the only law-making body, and what it cannot do an official or department or board or an agent of the government cannot do. And what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly. Yet, when four thousand Baptist people in an industrial

reservation are told they cannot have a Baptist Church where they are asked by the government to live and work, and when seven million Baptists are forbidden to minister to their members in the camps, it is both an evasion and a violation of the fundamental law of the land, by officials who have no constitutional prerogatives in the matter. When the government offers to build a church on government land for Roman Catholics it is appropriating public funds for sectarian purposes. When it forbids the Baptists to erect a building at their own expense in such a reservation it is destroying "the equality before the law of all religious denominations." A sentence from "Notes on Virginia" is as true now as it was in 1781: "It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself." It appears that some of the "powers that be" care nothing "for full freedom of religious opinion and worship." I am aware that religious freedom is a civil right, and that in times of war necessities and emergencies may alter, for the time being, this right; but I am not aware of
any authority in war or in peace for inequality, unfairness, and injustice towards any denomination or for governmental assumption of religious functions.

[From George W. McDaniel, The People Called Baptists, 1919, pp. 124-137. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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