Response to The Free Society and the Runaway State, John Hoad

Let me begin with a recollection – the time is the early 1940’s and I was approaching the age of 17. I was in high school in Barbados, which is my home and where my family for generations has been at home. At high school in Barbados, approaching 17, at that time I had been confirmed as a member of the Anglican church. But among my grandfather’s books I found the writings of Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, and reading them, I found that I could no longer accept the evidences for Christianity that I had been raised on.

Now, Scripture was taught in high school – it was called, not religion, but Scripture – and I took what was then a bold step of stating that I no longer wanted to do Scripture as one of the mandatory courses at high school. My father took this very well; he has succeeded over 88 years of his life in concealing whether he has or does not have any religious faith.  But he was willing to write for me a letter of one paragraph simply saying to the headmaster that on conscientious grounds, John will no longer be doing scripture at school. The headmaster put up no resistance, looked puzzled at this unusual request, but told me the classroom I would go to while the rest of the class was doing Scripture. I went there to find there were two other people present, colleagues of mine, and it turned out one was a Jew and the other was a Roman Catholic.

Because Barbados was overwhelmingly Protestant, it was possible in a very homogeneous situation of that sort, to mandate religion of a certain sort, and to get away with an exception clause which in all fairness was honored without any attempt at counter-persuasion. So, in that sort of social situation, the kind of church-state relationship that existed – an offshoot from the British type of state-church – was possible.

In some small places like Switzerland with a tradition of this kind, you can also make laws by referendum. But when I migrated in the early 70s to the United States of America, I realized the vastness, the plurality of this nation of ours. I like the word that I think Ed Ericson must have invented, the “severality” of our nation. In this situation it makes sense to have the kind of constitution and the kind of democracy that our founding fathers, in their wisdom, sought to institute. It is with gratitude to Ed Ericson that I stand here tonight, as I am myself just over the last year a new citizen of the United States of America, and I’m a historically oriented person, so that I am particularly grateful to a person like Ed Ericson who likes to delve back into history and to see the roots that are producing the fruits of today.  And so all honor to Ed for teasing out into the open for us, these two species of democracy, and helping us to understand how they are to be defined and how they are interacting in our thinking and in our political life .