Philip Coben

Cardinal Spellman Abuses Cry
for Full Religious Freedom

(27 June 1949

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 26, 27 June 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Cardinal (“I-am-proud-to-be-called-a-strikebreaker”) Spellman, has made the news again.

In a political speech addressed to a large Catholic rally on June 19, truly amazing in many respects, the U.S. head of the church hierarchy filled the air with accusations of “bigotry,” “un-American,” “anti-Catholic,” and “religious prejudice.” These are no light accusations especially since it is no secret that anti-Catholic prejudice and discrimination DOES exist in this country.

But what is the act of bigotry which Spellman was denouncing? it was simply the introduction of a bill in Congress for federal aid to education which would give such aid only to the government’s own public schools and not to private institutions such as the Catholic Church’s parochial schools!

The views of the sponsor – Rep. Barden of North Carolina – on religious toleration are unknown to us and do not interest us in this connection. Nor is Spellman reported to have made any point in this regard. The question is solely: Does the Catholic Church have the right to DEMAND, as its “democratic” due, and in the name of religious tolerance, that the government help support its schools?

Separation of Church and State at Stake

In our opinion, the cardinal’s speech was an arrogant attack on the principle of separation of church and state, and an arrogant demand which everyone – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – should indignantly reject.

Spellman argued that the Catholic parochial schools exist “by right and not by privilege or toleration,” and tied his demand up with “the inalienable rights of the human person to freedom of religion and freedom of education.” We find it hard to believe that the cardinal’s theological training has failed to develop his sense of logic to the point where he can see that his demand has nothing to do with these great principles.

The Catholic Church does have the right to run its own schools, just as Labor Action has the right to set up a school of its own. Catholics or groups of any other faith have the right to propagandize for their religious beliefs just as (for example) socialists have the right to educate for theirs. Any attack or limitation upon this right would be bigotry or undemocratic. But since when does the inalienable democratic right to operate a propaganda or educational institution entail the right to demand that the people as a whole pay for it?

The Catholic parochial schools already enjoy privileges which, in our opinion, are no inalienable part of religious toleration (tax-exemption, for example), but any attempt on their part further to dip their fingers into the public treasury ought to be repulsed by public opinion in no uncertain terms. The same would apply if any other other religious body – Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist or Jehovah’s Witnesses – attempted to claim such extra-religious privilege for itself.

This Is Complete Religious Freedom!

Especially at this time when the Stalinist tyranny in Eastern Europe is persecuting the Catholic Church for its own totalitarian purposes, Independent Socialists ought to be clear on what freedom to worship means, and on what separation of church and state means. (The latter, incidentally, is NOT complete in the U.S., contrary to oft-repeated statements, as we have indicated.)

As against the despotic barbarism behind the Iron Curtain, we insist that every religious institution without exception and without discrimination has a full and unhampered right to hold its religious services and to publish, speak and teach its doctrines. As against the pretensions of the church hierarchies, we insist that this right is no more and no less than that of any other educational institution or medium to do likewise.

And that, we add, is the only form of COMPLETE freedom of religion – which includes the right to be an atheist, for example, without being penalized for it by having to pay taxes to support religious propaganda!

Last updated on 3 August 2019