In the May 4th issue of Time magazine, in the department of Religion, we came across an interesting article entitled: “God’s Country” which we here quote in full.

“Wladyslaw Plywacki, 24, had passed all his tests for U.S. citizenship with flying colors. Imprisoned for five years by the Nazis in his native Poland be­fore he escaped to the U.S., he had served a hitch in Japan for his adopted country. He was an Air Force corporal stationed at Hickam Field, Honolulu when he came up before Federal Judge J. Frank Me Laughlin to take the official oath and became an American:

‘I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidel­ity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sover­eignty…that I will support and defend the Consti­tution and laws of the United States of America…and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…’ But here Corporal Plywicki boggled. The next words were ‘So help me God.’ Wladyslaw Plywicki explained that he was an atheist, therefore could not in honesty use those words.

Judge McLaughlin directed Plywicki to take a coin out of his pocket. ‘What does it say on the back?’ he demanded. When Plywicki had read the legend, ‘In God We Trust,’ Judge McLaughlin made a little speech.

‘Our Government is founded on a belief in God. You are asking for the privilege of being part of the Government, but you are apparently seeking admis­sion on your own terms. If you are not willing to take the oath in good faith, the oath prescribed by the Congress of the United States, I cannot grant your petition.’

The court immigration officer, surprised that the judge had not merely substituted an affirmation of allegiance permitted for those who object to oath-taking, suggested that, since Plywicki was about to leave for the States, the whole matter could be set­tled on the mainland. But Judge McLaughlin, a Rom­an Catholic, had his principles, too. He ruled Plywacki ineligible for citizenship.

Plywacki appealed to the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco. His argument: ‘If a na­tive born citizen is entitled to freedom of religion, which would include the right not to believe in God, then a petitioner for naturalization has the same right.’ Last week the Justice Department in Wash­ington told its office in Honolulu to ‘confess error,’ in­dicating that it would not support Judge McLaughlin’s ruling in the appeals court. But Immigration Ser­vice lawyers have so far been unable to find a single direct precedent for a case like Plywacki’s, and there remains the possibility that the court will be required to make a historic decision.

Judge McLaughlin, meanwhile, is sticking to his spiritual guns. ‘I appreciate the right of a person to be an atheist,’ he says. ‘But if you join an organiza­tion that has principles based on the existence of a supreme being, from the Declaration of Independence on down to the latest pronouncements by President Eisenhower on the importance of religion—you must abide by the rules of that organization’.”

The article, of course, leaves the case of Corporal Plywacki pending. We would like to know what the courts will decide. As we see it, Judge McLaughlin has a point in his argument which cannot be gain­said. It is always true that when you join any organ­ization that has a constitution stipulating certain prin­ciples, you are obliged to abide by the rules of that or­ganization. He also assumes responsibility for all that that organization stands for and does.

But we think Plywacki also has an argument. He insists that a native-born citizen is entitled to free­dom of religion, which right, as far as this country is concerned, entitles him not to believe in God if he so chooses. Hence one petitioning for his naturaliza­tion should have the same right.

Now we do not mean by this that we believe any man has the right not to believe in God. No man has that right. Every man by virtue of his being a creature is obliged to not only believe in Him, but to serve Him with thanksgiving. And in a certain sense, we may say every man does believe in God. Strictly speaking there are no atheists. God does not leave Himself without witness. He testifies in every man that He is. But as far as the laws of the land are concerned, the constitutional right of all our cit­izens is freedom of religion, and I believe our found­ing fathers meant by this that one could worship God if he pleased, and he could desist if he was so pleased.

The fact that the Declaration of Independence men­tions the name of God does not change this. The op­ening paragraph of the Declaration reads as follows: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to as­sume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to this separation. And the opening sentence of the next paragraph is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Cre­ator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

When I consider that a man like Thomas Paine, a naturalist and avowed deist, was greatly responsi­ble for the political and religious thinking in the days immediately preceding the forming of the Declaration of Independence, then I am inclined to believe that the “Creator” mentioned in the Declaration is none other than the god of the deist. And I believe I am supported in this conviction by the fact that Paine’s contemporaries and friends were men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were avowed deists, and men who formed the Declaration. Hence it is questionable whether “Nature’s God” men­tioned in the Declaration, is the God of Scripture at all.

And when I refer to the Constitution of the Uni­ted States I find no mention of God at all. The first amendment to the Constitution reads like this: “Con­gress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of griev­ances.” Here it is evident, as far as religion is con­cerned, that our Constitution allows one to do as he pleases. No one can tell you, as far as the Govern­ment is concerned, that you have to believe in God, or that you may not disbelieve Him.

Now whether you are a deist or an atheist, it makes practically no difference. Neither one wants God. Both are allowed by our Constitution to be Am­erican citizens. Hence Plywacki, in our opinion has a case. And it is also our opinion that the courts are certainly on the spot. They will certainly have to define or interpret our Constitution and declare wheth­er or not prospective citizens in their oath of alleg­iance shall recognize God.

As a final observation, we conclude on the basis of historic data that the remark which is often heard in our day, namely: “Our country is a Christian na­tion because it was founded on the faith of our found­ing fathers who believed in God” is one, in our opinion, you can take with a grain of salt. We do not deny that many emigrants at the beginning of our history came to this country for religious freedom, and that many of them no doubt believed in the God of Scrip­ture, but we deny that the formers of our Declara­tion of Independence and of our Constitution were all of them believers in the God of Scripture. The free­dom of these formers was the freedom from John Bull, the freedom of the French Revolution, of Voltaire and Rousseau, which was nothing more than the freedom of humanism, the freedom of the deist who puts God out of His world, and boldly goes his own way with­out so much as reckoning with Him.

On the basis of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of our land, Judge McLaughlin has no right to deny the Corporal his citizenship, and the courts should give the correct interpretation to these documents by saying: “In this country, everyone has a right to believe as he pleases, and the Gov­ernment has no right to coerce its citizens or prospec­tive citizens into even a formal confession of God.”

—M. Schipper