A federal appeals court has struck down a 1971 law that gave the Christian Science Church an extended copyright to its central theological text, Mary Baker Eddy's "Science and Health," saying it "offends the fundamental principles of separation of church and state."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia made the ruling Tuesday on a challenge by a dissident group called United Christian Science. That organization filed suit in 1983 after it was forced by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, to remove copyrighted material of church founder Mary Baker Eddy from audio tape cassettes.
All editions of Eddy's book, "Science and Health," except the one printed in 1906 passed into the public domain when Congress enacted a private law in 1971 giving the church an extended copyright to all versions.
The appeals court said the action by Congress was "fraught with expressions of an intent to assist achievement of a religious goal" and that the law did not have a secular purpose, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A Senate report said the bill was needed "to preserve and maintain the integrity of the statement of the religious teachings of this denomination." But the appeals court said, "It is not the function of government to promote religious worship, to enable a religious entity to control statements of church doctrine, or to guide a 'confused' public to 'correct' religious authority."
Nixon administration aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, both Christian Scientists, were involved in getting the 1971 measure through Congress.