1951 October 20

Protestant Church Leaders Protest Nomination of U.S. Envoy to the Vatican


A group of Protestant Church leaders on this day protested the nomination of Gen. Mark W. Clark as Ambassador to the Vatican. Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill, of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and president of the National Council of Churches, said that “at a time when national unity is so imperative [the appointment] is bound to result in unhappy controversy and great division. Sherill argued that the appointment of an Ambassador to the Vatican “places one church in a preferential position,” and therefore violates the principle of the separation of church and state.

Rev. G. Bromley Oxnam, Methodist Bishop of New York and a prominent ACLU figure, called the appointment “unwise, unecessary and un-American.”

Because of the protests and some strong opposition in the Senate, Gen. Clark, who had been a hero in World War II, withdrew his name from consideration. Although he was referred to in the media as the potential “Ambassador,” Clark would not have held that title, as the U.S. did not have formal diplomatic relations. He would have been an “Emissary” to the Vatican, or the Holy See, its official title.

Official diplomatic relations of the Holy See by the U.S. began on April 9, 1984 under President Ronald Reagan.

The Supreme Court embraced the concept of a “wall of separation” between church and state in the landmark decision Everson v. Board of Education on February 10, 1947.

Read: Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, No Establishment of Religion: America’s Original Contribution to Religious Liberty (2012)

Learn more about separation of church and state: https://www.au.org/

Learn about the Religion Clauses at the First Amendment Center:

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