Saturday, November 23, 2013

James A. Michener

by Edd Doerr

James Michener (1907-1997) was one of our finest and most prolific writers. His last book, This Noble Land: My Vision for America (Fawcett, 1996) is a fine summary of his thought on many of the issues that still confront us and a good antidote for much of the nonsense being spewed today by Fox News, the Tea Partyers and the Religious Right. Each chapter ends with a set of recommendations. For example: "The current [written in 1996!] move to demonize liberals, calling into question  their validity in American life and even their patriotism,  is a dangerous leap in the wrong direction. It goes against the grain of American life and should be stopped." And: "The teaching of creationism to the exclusion of science should not be allowed."

And his book's penultimate suggestion: "Do not permit a school voucher plan that diverts tax money to private schools."

I never met Michener face to face, but we did work together back around 1970 when he was a prominent member of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention. This occurred shortly after New York had had a con-con that tried to remove the state constitution's language barring tax aid to church schools (Article XI, Section 3), a move that caused the state's voters to defeat the proposed constitutional revision 72% to 28% in a 1967 referendum. Michener evidently read my 1968 book on the matter, The Conspiracy That Failed (published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State) and contacted me.

Michener wanted to strengthen the church-state separation language already there (Article I, Section 3, and Article III, Sections 15 and 29). But as this turned out not to be feasible, we hit on the strategy of leaving the language alone but giving it a fresh "legislative history" that reinforced its Jeffersonian-Madisonian meaning. So count James Michener as one of our strong defenders of religious liberty.

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