On Friday, September 3, 1982, a sheriff in Louisville, Nebraska, entered the sanctuary of Faith Baptist Church to arrest its pastor, Everett Sileven, as he preached to gathered schoolchildren. Just over one month later, the sheriff returned to physically remove a praying congregation and put a padlock on the church door…the congregation…had been involved in a three-year legal battle that began when the state of Nebraska passed legislation requiring private religious schools to hire state-credentialed teachers.
The church argued that the separation of church and state prohibited the government from regulating ministries of a church, including its Christian day school. They also refused to comply on the grounds that the church was God’s property.
Fundamentalists and evangelicals across the country followed the case. Christianity Today carried images of the padlocked church and Christians being carried away by authorities as they prayed. Some three hundred people, many of them pastors, had come to support Faith Baptist. The pastors in the group vowed that, one by one, they would assume leadership of the church and school. As soon as one pastor was arrested, another would take his place. A year later Pastor Sileven published a letter to the Nebraska legislature in the form of a small book entitled Dear Legislator: A Plea for Liberty in Christian Education…
The Sileven case was finally settled in 1984 when the legislature included an exemption for religious schools that provided “alternative evidence” that their schools were educating students properly…
Legal scholar Neal Devins argued that this case was a turning point because the ability of Christian school supporters to mobilize as they did was a serious deterrent to other states considering regulations. The church’s supporters forced the state of Nebraska into “a game of chicken,” in which the state went to the graphic extreme of arresting a pastor and padlocking a church. The fact that other states did not want to pay that price to regulate private Christian schools has allowed those schools (and homeschooling parents as well) to retain a significant degree of autonomy.
Ingersoll, J.J. (2015). Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, New York. pp. 91, 93