Former Senator Sam Ervin, who directed the Senate Watergate investigation, died at the age of 88 on April 23. He was regarded as the foremost constitutional expert in Congress. Shortly before his death, he penned the following letter to President Reagan:
"Dear Mr. President: The Constitution is the wisest instrument of government the earth has ever known. If America is to endure as a free Republic as ordained by it, Presidents, Supreme Court justices and other public officers must do what they have sworn to do, that is, support it.
"Despite my admiration for you, I am constrained by my duty to our country to assert that what you say and advocate, in respect for religion, shows that you do not understand the religious clauses of the First Amendment, and how obedience to them is essential to the preservation of religious freedom they are designed to secure to all Americans of all faiths.
"You urge Congress to give Federal tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools to be taught the creeds of their churches. Your action in this respect violates the First Amendment, which forbids government to use the taxes of Caesar to finance the things of God.
"You named an ambassador to the Vatican — an act in violation of the establishment clause, which in the words of its drafter, James Madison, forbids government to establish an official relationship with any religion.
"You urge adoption of a constitutional amendment to authorize prayer in the public schools. The adoption of such an amendment would drastically alter the First Amendment, which commands the government be strictly neutral in respect to religion and leaves the task of teaching religion to children to the homes and churches of our land.
"The government must keep its hands off religion if our people are to enjoy religious freedom — our most precious freedom."
This article first appeared in the May 1985 issue of The Freedom Writer.