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A textbook and religion

A UNITED STATES appeals court has ruled that the copyright extension of ``Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,'' granted by Congress in 1971 to The First Church of Christ, Scientist, is unconstitutional. The court reasoned that the 75-year copyright extension, such as has been granted other books, in this case breached the principle of separation of church and state and appeared to be an attempt to prevent wider circulation of the book. We do not usually comment here on matters of church policy. But since this issue has been raised in the courts and is thus a matter of explicit public decision, we thought a few words might be in order.

First, the separation of church and state remains of great importance to members of the Christian Science denomination, as to all Americans. The right to worship as led by one's conscience, or not to worship, is essential to the practice of religion. It is no coincidence that Christian Science, the religion established by Mary Baker Eddy, author of the church's textbook, Science and Health, was founded in the United States, the land of religious freedom.

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Second, the intention of individual Christian Scientists, and certainly the church organization, is to extend, not restrict, the availability of this textbook, which contains the full explanation of its author's views. We have a robust confidence that Science and Health makes its own best case for what this religion of healing is all about. Translations in many languages are made and distributed, under heavy subsidy, to ensure a worldwide reading. The book is available in Christian Science Reading Rooms, by loan or purchase, and in public libraries, and through bookstores. Many individual Christian Scientists make a private practice of giving copies to others who might benefit from it. Quotations from Science and Health are included every day in the religious article that appears daily in this newspaper. And so forth. The more the textbook is studied and taken to heart, the better off will be individuals and society.

Third, we think it important that the textbook continue to be available exactly as Mrs. Eddy left it. The final text, worked out by Mrs. Eddy through many revisions over many years, represents a complete statement. The chapter headings, the sequence of materials, together say what she wanted to say. For publishers to pick and choose from the text, not to mention alter it, would be to distort her statement. It seems only natural that an effort would be made to follow Mrs. Eddy's injunction to protect her legacy, in so far as this is legally possible. The state protects the physical property of churches from fire, from vandalism. Protection was sought to secure the integrity of a publication that plays a unique role in Christian Science study and worship: Readings from the Bible and Science and Health constitute the sermon in Christian Science churches; these readings, together with hymns and, on Wednesdays, impromptu remarks from the congregation, make up the service; there are no lay preachers.

Whatever the final adjudication of the courts - and again, we concur with the effort of the court to reach a correct interpretation of the Constitution's clause regarding the establishment of religion - the place of Science and Health as a leavening force in the world is secure. According to church officials, an accurate version will continue to be maintained and made as widely available as practicable. Its work of leading its readers from physical, moral, and spiritual darkness has carried on for more than a century, and will continue.

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