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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Faux patriotic, Christian posture justifies discrimination for Reagan and others

Finlator criticizes Ronald Reagan's record on civil rights. He describes himself as enraged that Reagan has earned a reputation for compassion while denying money and support from the people who need it most. A patriotic, religious-minded posture, as adopted by Reagan and some Christian leaders, is eroding the division between church and state and threatens the nation's conscience, Finlator believes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What is your opinion of the Reagan Administration in so far as the civil rights program is concerned?
Mr. Reagan and his colleagues are no friends of civil liberties; and in order to do what they are doing, they know that civil liberties must be soft-pedalled and diminished. That's why he radically changed the Civil Rights Commission and now it is indeed a sham and a mockery. During the years prior to his coming, the only federal organization that existed that was willing to criticize the government for its violations of civil rights was the Civil Rights Commission. And it would have been much better, much more honest, for Mr. Reagan to have tried to abolish it completely than do what he's done to it since it now is actually an organization that puts an approval on his consistent denials of human and civil rights at home and abroad. And the fascinating and frustrating thing about Mr. Reagan is that he gets away with all this, and still gives the impression of a man who believes in civil rights, a man who never goes to church but has the impression of being a very churchminded person. A man who is impoverishing people more and more and transferring wealth from poor people to the people who already have it, and is known as a man of compassion and concern. These things of course frustrate, and really enrage us, but we know that this is a time when American people have grown weary, as St. Paul said, they've grown weary of well doin. They want these structures of protections of people, these social agencies of compassion, they want them enfeebled and dismantled. And in order to do these things you've got to change your attitudes on civil liberties and you've got to appoint Judges who are no longer favorable to civil rights. And so what we're seeing is a gradual disestablishment of civil protections and we're seeing it done by a president who—because of his posture of patriotism and religion—is able to give the American people a sense of a satisfied conscience, and a sense that what is being done is "chic" and accepted, "American" and Christian, and it is right to believe this. Then, on top of all this, Jay, you have the religious people, the Moral Majority, the Fundamentalists, all across the country giving religious sanction to what is basically a selfish America, and a self-centered America, and a power crazed America. The president persuades the people that it's patriotic and religious; the fundamentalists say it's "God blessed." And in all this we are trying to say that this is a Christian nation, that we want Christians in government, we want Christian schools, we want prayer in school. So that whatever this administration does at home or abroad, however many more people are impoverished, whatever we do by way of repression to undeveloped or developing nations, it's o. k. because it's been done by a Christian nation.
What does this portend for the future tranquility of the country if, as you indicate, we are deepening divisions between classes and so forth.
If it continues, you don't have any church-state separation. Church-state separation means that you have a church so autonomous, so distanced institutionally from its own government that in the name of God and truth, the church can place the nation under the Judgement of God, to say, "Thus sayeth the Lord." To America, like the prophet Nathan told David, the church can no longer say "Thou art the man." You are the one doing wrong under God. The church has lost that capacity, that distance, to bring America before the bar of God's Judgement, because the church has been so merged with the state that patriotism and religion are synonomous. So that America is deprived of conscience. The United Nations can't stop America, the World Court can't stop America; only Americans can stop America; and the American church more and more has forfeited that right and that opportunity to save it.