It was Christmas eve in 1965 and my two sisters and I (yes, that's me in the photo at 10 years of age reacting to my big sister's gift of the wildly popular Give-a-Show Projector) were opening gifts at my grandparent's house in Moorhead, MN. As I look back on that year and try to recall all of it I see it as a simpler time, when each day seemed like an eternity, there were few distractions and, as I came to appreciate much later on, the average cost of a new home was $13,600, gas was $0.31 per gallon, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was a mere 969.
But it wasn't a simple time, was it? The Vietnam war was just beginning to escalate (President Lyndon Johnson announced an increase in the number of United States troops in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000), the civil rights movement was gaining momentum and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama with the result of State troopers violently confronting them.
Preceding that 1965 Christmas in my school, Valley View Elementary in Bloomington, MN, was the first time that I had to confront the realization that there were other people who held religious beliefs different from mine.
A boy in my school, Sam S., was Jewish and we talked one day at lunch about that day's Christmas carol singing and he started to cry. Not knowing what to do, I sat there without saying anything and ate my sandwich until he stopped. "What's the matter," I asked as he wiped away a tear and responded, "I don't know any of the words and just feel stupid."
Though I probably did nothing to console him, that one incident forever changed the way I viewed what "separation of church and state" meant as well as the term "religious freedom" and the protection both deserve.