Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we look at a landmark case in American Constitutional Religious History.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 25th of May 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Alright, today’s event takes us back to 1931 and to the United States Supreme Court which found itself in a precarious situation regarding a Canadian Baptist professor who applied to become a naturalized U.S. Citizen.

He was Douglas McIntosh- born in Ontario Canada in 1877 and graduated from McMaster University before being ordained as a Baptist pastor in 1907. He would receive his PhD in systematic theology in 1909 from the University of Chicago and was made a professor at Yale Divinity School.

The most pertinent fact for the Supreme Court was that he had been a military chaplain for the Canadian Army during World War 1 and assisted Americans serving with the YMCA in France (The YMCA has served in Chaplain-like roles during wars since the American Civil War).

He was named Dwight Professor at Yale and was made chair of the department of religion. In 1925, the year he was remarried after his first wife died during childbirth, McIntosh applied for naturalization as a U.S. Citizen.

During his questioning for citizenship, he rejected the idea that he would be bound to support his nation, no matter what. McIntosh believed that the 1st Amendment granted him, or would grant him the religious freedom to register as a conscientious objector if he thought the war was unjust. This is important, at least then, because he had volunteered as a chaplain and assisted the US military in France.

It was the “no matter what” that bothered McIntosh and he believed that as a citizen he would be able to use the protection of the first amendment for his own religious objections. Except, this angered a slim majority on the court who presumed he was angling for protection not yet offered him. The court, in a 5-3 decision ruled that naturalization was a privilege and not a right, and thus he could be denied.

The context for the court's decision was the Russian Revolution and many Russians applying for naturalization. Fear of Russians, Anarchists, secret communists, etc… was a driving force behind the 20th c. American politics and the rationale for excluding them would keep Douglas MacIntosh- a Canadian pastor and theologian from becoming an American citizen.

The underpinning for this decision was the 1929 case of Schwimmer v. U.S. wherein a woman was denied citizenship on account of her strict pacifism. In 1946 the Supreme Court reversed the Schwimmer case as well as the McIntosh decision in Girouard v. the United States in which James Girouard- a Canadian Seventh Day Adventist was granted his rights following a ruling in his favor.

As long-time listeners of this show know, I am fascinated by 1st amendment religious freedom questions, in part, because of the curious cultural and religious make-up of our nation and the broad freedoms granted under the first amendment.

As you may know- the history of Christianity in America is a special subject to me, having taught on it for a decade and given interviews and special courses on the topic (one of which you can find at 1517 under the Academy, where I have a brief course giving you the big picture).

Also- you may know that this show exists because of 1517 and the 1517 Network of Podcasts. We are celebrating the anniversary of the creation of the network- and I have now been creating weekly or daily podcasts for 1517 since 2013.

On this network, we have a show, Freely Given, hosted by Gretchen Ronnevik and Katie Koplin, and last week I was on their show talking about the history of Christianity in America. So check them out, check that show out, and check out the whole network

The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary, the Gospel of Luke and the Song of Simeon (also known as the Nunc Dimittis):

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
 you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
 and the glory of your people Israel.”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 25th of May 2022 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who puts the “fist” in pacifism, he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who cannot read the Song of Simeon without humming the tune Dan van Voorhis,

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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