The Words of the Hatch Family

This isn't the Soviet Union... this is the United States of America

Orrin Hatch
June 26, 1984
Chairman Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights

Senator Hatch greets Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han at the US Capitol before the hearing.

The state of religious liberty in America today... is a subject of monumental significance to our republic. The right of every man to be free from governmental coercion or interference in his personal relationship with his creator is fundamental to our free and democratic way of life. Its value simply cannot be overstated.

As historian Sanford Cobb has so accurately observed:

Among all the benefits to mankind to which this soil has given rise, this pure religious liberty may be justly rated as the great gift of America to civilization and the world.

The concept of religious freedom has been central in the political philosophy of the leaders of our nation since the Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. It was significant in the 18th century debates of state legislatures and the Continental Congress, where it had the indefatigable support of men such as Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and James Madison. These debates culminated in 1789 in the passage by the First Congress of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. That amendment contains these few but well-chosen words:

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

These words, clear as they may seem, have been the subject of significant, and sometimes heated, debate since their enactment almost two centuries ago. These debates have often led to lawsuits and from time to time the United States Supreme Court stepped in to give guidance and interpret these simple words.

Where these judicial interpretations have left us in law and practice in 1984 is subject to legitimate differences of opinion. On the one hand, there are those who suggest that for all our efforts the First Amendment, in both its establishment and free exercise clauses, has been misinterpreted and misapplied. On the other hand, there are people who feel that the religious freedoms contemplated by the founding fathers are, for the most part, being fully protected.

By any standard of measurement, there has seemed to be a recent acceleration of disputes between American citizens and government officials over the proper role of the government in the affairs of churches.

We have recently seen a minister and others sent to jail in Nebraska for refusing to obey a court order which they feel, rightly or wrongly, is against their religious beliefs; we have seen a private religious university lose its tax exempt status; and we have seen a foreign national, who came to our country to spread the word of God in the form of the Unification Church, investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and accused and convicted of criminal tax evasion stemming from allegations that he was in possession of money and property which he contended was not his own but rather the property of his church.

We have also seen disputes over whether municipalities may constitutionally sponsor nativity scenes at Christmas, whether Orthodox Jews may wear unobtrusive religious headgear in military service; and, of course, we have recently had extensive debate on the Senate floor over school prayer and whether religious institutions are entitled to use public buildings in a manner equal to other community groups.

The jailing of ministers is especially disturbing to me. We are putting men of the cloth behind bars, here in the 20th century. It is more than disturbing to me; I think it's alarming. This isn't the Soviet Union, this isn't Poland, this isn't Afghanistan; this is the United States of America.

I am concerned because this is the greatest country in the world, it's the greatest country, providing the greatest measure of religious freedom in the world today, and I'm concerned about putting ministers in jail because of their religious beliefs and tenets, because of courts that will not even allow these beliefs and tenets to be considered as far as the instructions to the jury. Now something's got to be wrong.

To be sure, we've come a long way since the early days of this country when priests were jailed, ministers were shot, and witches were burned at the stake, and some are worrying that we may be slipping back. I happen to belong to the only church in the history of this country that had an extermination order put out against its members by a state governor. Well, that happened over a century ago and I for one would like to think that it will never happen again, not in this country.

But what are people to think when a Baptist minister in a church-run school in Nebraska, which by a number of objective measurements may be doing a better job of educating the children than the public schools, is sentenced to jail for refusing to compromise his religious beliefs to satisfy what appears to be unnecessary state reporting regulations. And what are we to think when the leader of an unpopular church, who is definitely hated and despised by large groups of people, may be thrown in prison after the court refuses to recognize what some believe to be his and his church's constitutional rights.

Have we just become more skilled in hiding religious persecution behind the veil of investigations even by that most irreligious of institutions, the Internal Revenue Service? I hope not, but surely it is time we started finding out. That is why we are here today. These are not easy questions, these are not easy matters; they are tough.

These issues and others will be discussed at today's hearing. Hopefully, we will leave here with a better awareness of the relative well-being of our fundamental religious rights and will reach some helpful conclusions.

In arranging for this oversight hearing, the Subcommittee has made every effort to include a wide variety of viewpoints from a representative sampling of all religious groups active in today's America. As a result, we will be hearing from Presbyterians, Fundamentalists, Baptists, Unificationists, and Lutherans, among others. And we have received written statements from many other religions, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, the Hare Krishnas and the Scientologists, which will be made a part of the written record of these proceedings.

All of today's witnesses have been requested to provide the Subcommittee with their observations on the current state of religious liberty and to recommend legislation, if they choose, which to them may appear necessary and appropriate to correct any current deficiencies in practice or law.

Our purpose here today is not to retry or unnecessarily reargue the facts of any previous lawsuits. We are interested in past church/state litigation only to the extent it helps us in the task at hand. Of course, central to that task is a constitutional inquiry. We are not here to necessarily adjudge what is fair or necessary or desirable but rather what is constitutional. 

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