An Open Letter to the Honorable Alfred E. Smith

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SIR—

The American people take pride in viewing the progress of an American citizen from the humble estate in which his life began toward the highest office within the gift of the nation. It is for this reason that your candidacy for the Presidential nomination has stirred the enthusiasm of a great body of your fellow citizens. They know and rejoice in the hardship and the struggle which have fashioned you as a leader of men. They know your fidelity to the morality you have advocated in public and private life and to the religion you have revered; your great record of public trusts successfully and honestly discharged; your spirit of fair play, and justice even to your political opponents. Partisanship bids fair to quail before the challenge of your personality, and men who vote habitually against your party are pondering your candidacy with sincere respect.; and yet—through all this tribute there is a note of doubt, a sinister accent of interrogation, not as to intentional rectitude and moral purpose, but as to certain conceptions which your fellow citizens attribute to you as a loyal and conscientious Roman Catholic, which in their minds are irreconcilable with that Constitution which as President you must support and defend, and with the principles of civil and religious liberty on which American institutions are based.

To this consideration no word of yours, or on your behalf, has yet been addressed. Its discussion in the interests of the public weal is obviously necessary, and yet a strange reticence avoids it, often with the unjust and withering attribution of bigotry or prejudice as the unworthy motive of its introduction. Undoubtedly a large part of the public would gladly avoid a subject the discussion of which is so unhappily associated with rancor and malevolence, and yet to avoid the subject is to neglect the profoundest interests in our national welfare.

American life has developed into a variety of religious beliefs and ethical systems, religious and nonreligious, whose claims press more and more upon public attention. None of these presents a more definite philosophy or makes a more positive demand upon the attention and reason of mankind than your venerable Church, which recently at Chicago, in the greatest religious demonstration that the world has ever seen, declared her presence and her power in American life. Is not the time ripe and the occasion opportune for a declaration, if it can be made that shall clear away all doubt as to the reconcilability of her status and her claims with American constitutional principles? With such a statement the only question as to your proud eligibility to the Presidential office would disappear, and the doubts of your fellow citizens not of the Roman Catholic Church would be instantly resolved in your favor.

The conceptions to which we refer are not superficial. They are of the very life and being of that Church, determining its status and its relation to the State, and to the great masses of men whose convictions deny them the privilege of membership in that Church. Surely the more conscientious the Roman Catholic, and the more loyal to his Church, the more sincere and unqualified should be his acceptance of such conceptions.

These conceptions have been recognized before by Roman Catholics as a potential obstacle to their participation in public office, Pope Leo XIII himself declaring, in one of his encyclical letters, that 'it may in some places be true that for most urgent and just reasons it is by no means expedient for (Roman) Catholics to engage in public affairs or to take an active part in politics.'

It is indeed true that a loyal and conscientious Roman Catholic could and would discharge his oath of office with absolute fidelity to his moral standards. As to that in general, and as to you in particular, your fellow citizens entertain no doubt. But those moral standards differ essentially from the moral standards of all men not Roman Catholics. They are derived from the basic political doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, asserted against repeated challenges for fifteen hundred years, that God has divided all power over men between the secular State and that Church. Thus Pope Leo XIII, in 1885, in his encyclical letter on The Christian Constitution of States, says: 'The Almighty has appointed the charge of the human race, between two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human things.'

The deduction is inevitable that, as all power over human affairs not given to the State by God, is given by God to the Roman Catholic Church, no other churches or religious or ethical societies have in theory any direct power from God and are without direct divine sanction, and therefore without natural right to function on the same basis as the Roman Catholic Church in the religious and moral affairs of the State. The result is that that Church, if true to her basic political doctrine, is hopelessly committed to that intolerance that has disfigured so much of her history. This is frankly admitted by Roman Catholic authorities.

Pope Pius IX in the famous Syllabus (1864) said: 'To hold that national Churches, withdrawn from the authority of the Roman Pontiff and altogether separated, can be established, is error.'

That great compendium of Roman Catholic teaching, the Catholic Encyclopedia, declares that the Roman Catholic Church 'regards dogmatic intolerance, not alone as her incontestable right, but as her sacred duty.' It is obvious that such convictions leave nothing in theory of the religious and moral rights of those who are not Roman Catholics. And, indeed, that is Roman Catholic teaching and the inevitable deduction from Roman Catholic claims, if we use the word 'rights' strictly. Other churches, other religious societies, are tolerated in the State, not by right, but by favor.

Pope Leo XIII is explicit on this point: 'The (Roman Catholic) Church, indeed, deems it unlawful to place the various forms of divine worship on the same footing as the true religion, but does not, on that account, condemn those rulers who, for the sake of securing some great good or of hindering some great evil, allow patiently custom or usage to be a kind of sanction for each kind of religion having its place in the State.'

That is, there is not a lawful equality of other religions with that of the Roman Catholic Church, but that Church will allow state authorities for politic reasons—that is, by favor, but not by right—to tolerate other religious societies. We would ask, sir, whether such favors can be accepted in place of rights by those owning the name of freemen?

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Furthermore, the doctrine of the Two Powers, in effect and theory, inevitably makes the Roman Catholic Church at times sovereign and paramount over the State. It is true that in theory the doctrine assigns to the secular State jurisdiction over secular matters and to the Roman Catholic Church jurisdiction over matters of faith and morals, each jurisdiction being exclusive of the other within undisputed lines. But the universal experience of mankind has demonstrated, and reason teaches, that many questions must arise between the State and the Roman Catholic Church in respect to which it is impossible to determine to the satisfaction of both in which jurisdiction the matter at issue lies.

Here arises the irrepressible conflict. Shall the State or the Roman Catholic Church determine? The Constitution of the United States clearly ordains that the State shall determine the question. The Roman Catholic Church demands for itself the sole right determine it, and holds that within limits of that claim it is superior to and supreme over the State. The Catholic Encyclopedia clearly so declares: 'In case of direct contradiction, making it impossible for both jurisdictions to be exercised, the jurisdiction of the Church prevails and that of the State is excluded.' And Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus asserted: 'To say in the case of conflicting laws enacted by the Two Powers, the civil law prevails, is error.'

Extreme as such a conclusion may appear, it is inevitable in Roman Catholic philosophy. That Church by the very theory of her existence cannot yield, because what she claims as her right and her truth she claims is hers by the 'direct act of God'; in her theory, God himself directly forbids. The State cannot yield because of a great mass of citizens who are not Roman Catholics. By its constitutional law and in the nature of things, practices of religion in its opinion inconsistent with its peace and safety are unlawful; the law of its being—the law of necessity—forbids. If we could all concede the 'divine and exlusive' claims of the Roman Catholic Church, conflict would be eliminated; but, as it is, there is a wide consensus of opinion that those claims are false in fact and in flat conflict with the very being and order of the State.

In our constitutional order this consensus is bulwarked on the doctrine of the Supreme Court of the United States that our religious liberty and our constitutional guaranties thereof are subject to the supreme qualification that religious 'practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the State shall not be justified.' (Watson v. Jones 13 Wall. P.579)

The Roman Catholic Church, of course, makes no claim, and never has made any claim, to jurisdiction over matters that in her opinion are solely secular and civil. She makes the claim obviously only when the matter in question is not, in her opinion, solely secular and civil. But as determination of jurisdiction, in a conflict with the State, rests solely in her sovereign discretion, no argument is needed to show that she may in theory and effect annihilate the rights of all who are not Roman Catholics, sweeping into the jurisdiction of a single religious society the most important interests of human well-being. The education of youth, the institution of marriage, the international relations of the State, and its domestic peace, as we shall proceed to show, are, in certain exigencies, wrested from the jurisdiction of the State, in which all citizens share, and confided to the jurisdiction of a single religious society in which all citizens cannot share, great numbers being excluded by the barriers of religious belief. Do you, sir, regard such claims as tolerable in a republic that calls itself free?

And, in addition to all this, the exclusive powers of the Roman Catholic Church are claimed by her to be vested in and exercised by a sovereignty that is not only created therefore by the special act of God, but is foreign and extraterritorial to these United States and to all secular states. This sovereignty, by the highest Roman Catholic authority, that of Pope Leo XIII, is not only superior in theory to the sovereignty of the secular State, but is substituted upon earth in place of the authority of God himself.

We quote Pope Leo in his encyclical letter on The Christian Constitution of States: 'Over the mighty multitude of mankind, God has set rulers with power to govern, and He has willed that, one of them (the Pope) should be the head of all.' We quote Pope Leo in his encyclical letter on The Reunion of Christendom: 'We who hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty.'

It follows naturally on all this that there is a conflict between authoritative Roman Catholic claims on the one side and our constitutional law and principles on the other. Pope Leo XIII says: 'It is not lawful for the State, any more than for the individual, either to disregard all religious duties or to hold in equal favor different kinds of religion.' But the Constitution of the United States declares otherwise: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.'

Thus the Constitution declares the United States shall hold in equal favor different kinds of religion or no religion and the Pope declares it is not lawful to hold them in equal favor. Is there not here a quandary for that man who is at once a loyal churchman and a loyal citizen?

Pope Leo says that the Roman Catholic Church 'deems it unlawful to place the various forms of divine worship on the same footing as 'the true religion.' But the Supreme Court of the United States says that our 'law knows no heresy and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect.' (Watson v. Jones 13 Wall. p. 7)

Americans indulge themselves in the felicitation that they have achieved an ideal religious situation in the United States. But Pope Leo, in his encyclical letter on Catholicity in the United States, asserts: 'It would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church.' The modern world reposes in the comfortable reflection that the severance of Church and State has ended a long and unhappy conflict, when the same Pope calls our attention to the error of supposing 'that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced.'

Is our law, then, in papal theory, no law? Is it contrary to natural right? Is it in conflict with the will and fiat of Almighty God? Clearly the Supreme Court and Pope Leo are profoundly at variance. Is it not obvious that such a difference of opinion concerning the fundamental rights between two sovereignties operating within the same territory, may, even with the best intentions and the most sensitive consciences, be fruitful of political offenses that are odious among men?

Citizens who waver in your support would ask whether, as a Roman Catholic, you accept as authoritative the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that in case of contradiction, making it impossible for the jurisdiction of that Church and the jurisdiction of the State to agree, the Jurisdiction of the Church shall prevail; whether, as statesman, you accept the teaching of the Supreme Court of the United States that, in matters of religious practices which in the opinion of the State are inconsistent with its peace and safety, the jurisdiction of the State shall prevail; and, if you accept both teachings, how you will reconcile them.

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