Frank Forrester Church III (July 25, 1924 – April 7, 1984) was an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a United States Senator from Idaho from 1957 to 1981. He is known for heading the Church Committee, which investigated abuses in the United States Intelligence Community.
|Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee|
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1981
|Preceded by||John Sparkman|
|Succeeded by||Charles H. Percy|
|Chair of the Senate Aging Committee|
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1979
|Preceded by||Harrison A. Williams|
|Succeeded by||Lawton Chiles|
|United States Senator
January 3, 1957 – January 3, 1981
|Preceded by||Herman Welker|
|Succeeded by||Steve Symms|
|Born||Frank Forrester Church III
July 25, 1924
Boise, Idaho, U.S.
|Died||April 7, 1984
Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Bethine Clark (1947–1984)|
|Children||2 (including Frank)|
|Education||Stanford University (BA, LLB)
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1943–1946|
|Battles/wars||World War II
• China Burma India Theater
Born and raised in Boise, Idaho, Church served as a military intelligence officer in the China Burma India Theater during World War II. He established a legal practice in Boise after graduating from Stanford Law School. He defeated incumbent Republican Senator Herman Welker in Idaho's 1956 Senate election, becoming one of the youngest individuals ever to serve in the Senate. In the Senate, Church became a protégé of Lyndon B. Johnson and established a reputation as a member of the party's liberal wing. He sponsored the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Church emerged as an important figure in American foreign policy and chaired the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1979 to 1981. He was one of the first Senators to publicly oppose the Vietnam War, and co-sponsored legislation to curtail the war. In 1975, Church led the Church Committee, which inspired the passage of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the creation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He also led the effort to ratify the Torrijos–Carter Treaties, which returned the Panama Canal Zone to Panama.
Church sought the Democratic nomination in the 1976 presidential election, but withdrew from the race in favor of Jimmy Carter. Church won re-election to the Senate in 1962, 1968, and 1974, but narrowly lost his bid for a fifth term to Republican Steve Symms. After leaving the Senate, Church practiced international law until his death in 1984.
Born and raised in Boise, Idaho, Church was the younger of the two sons of Frank (II) and Laura Bilderback Church. His father co-owned a sporting goods store and took the sons on fishing, hunting, and hiking outings in the Idaho mountains. The family was Catholic and conservative, and Frank III attended St. Joseph's School as a youngster, where he went by the nickname "Frosty." His older brother Richard became a career officer in the U.S. Marines Corps, and retired as a colonel. Another branch of the Church family includes Rear Admiral Albert T. Church Sr. as well as Vice Admiral Albert T. Church III, the author of the Church report.
In his youth, Church admired William E. Borah, who represented Idaho in the U.S. Senate from 1907 to 1940. Church graduated from Boise High School in 1942, where he served as student body president. As a junior in 1941, he won the American Legion National Oratorical Contest. The prize was sufficient to provide for four years at the college of the winner's choice. Church enrolled at Stanford University in California in 1942 and joined Theta Xi fraternity.
Church enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942, was called up the following year and attended officer candidate training at Fort Benning in Georgia. He was commissioned a second lieutenant on his 20th birthday in 1944 and served as a military intelligence officer in the China-Burma-India theater. Following his discharge in 1946, he returned to Stanford to complete his education, receiving his bachelor's degree in history in 1947, with Phi Beta Kappa honors.
In June 1947 he married Bethine Clark, daughter of Chase Clark, a former Democratic governor of Idaho and the federal judge for the state. The wedding took place at the secluded Robinson Bar Ranch ( ), the Clark family's ranch in the mountains east of Stanley (and now owned by singer Carole King, since 1981). He entered Harvard Law School that fall and after one year at Harvard, Church transferred to Stanford Law School, when he thought the cold Massachusetts winter was the cause of a pain in his lower back. The pain did not go away and the problem was soon diagnosed as testicular cancer. After one of his testicles and glands in his lower abdomen were removed, Church was given only a few months to live. However, he rebounded from the illness after another doctor started X-ray treatments. This second chance led him to later reflect that "life itself is such a chancy proposition that the only way to live is by taking great chances." In 1950, Church graduated from Stanford Law School and returned to Boise to practice law and teach public speaking at the junior college.
Church became an active Democrat in Idaho and after an unsuccessful try for the state legislature in 1952, he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1956. After a closely contested primary election against former Senator Glen H. Taylor, Church handily defeated Republican incumbent Herman Welker in the general election. At the age of 32, Church became the fifth youngest member ever to sit in the U.S. Senate. Church was reelected three times (1962, 1968 and 1974), the only Democrat ever to win reelection to the U.S. Senate from Idaho.
Upon entering the Senate in January 1957, Church made the mistake of voting on a measure against the wishes of Democratic Majority Leader, Lyndon Johnson, and Johnson punished Church by all but ignoring him for the next six months. Church found solace from Republican Minority Leader, William Knowland. However, Church managed to find his way into Johnson's good graces by providing key assistance in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed. LBJ was so grateful he made the young Idahoan a veritable protégé, rewarding him with plum assignments, such as a seat on the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position which allowed Church to follow in the footsteps of his idol, William Borah. Recently declassified documents show that the young veteran also challenged his mentor, behind closed doors, after the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, making this prescient warning: "In a democracy you cannot expect the people, whose sons are being killed and who will be killed, to exercise their judgment if the truth is concealed from them."
In 1967, a recall campaign was waged against Church by Ron Rankin, a Republican county commissioner in Kootenai County in northern Idaho. Rankin unsuccessfully sued Idaho's secretary of state to accept recall petitions. The U.S. District Court for Idaho ruled that the state's recall laws did not apply to U.S. senators and that such a recall would violate the U.S. Constitution. Allan Shepard, Idaho's attorney general at the time, agreed with the court's decision.
"It must be pointed out that a United States senator is not a state officer but a federal officer whose position is created by Article I, Section I of the United States Constitution," Shepard wrote in a June 17, 1967, opinion for the secretary of state. "There seems to be no provision for canvassing the votes of a recall election of a United States senator." Most commentators at the time believed that the recall attempt strengthened Church politically by allowing him to play the role of political martyr and he was reelected in the next year's election over Republican Congressman George V. Hansen 60% to 40%.
Vietnam War and Church CommitteeEdit
Church was a key figure in American foreign policy during the 1970s, and served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1979 to 1981. Following the instinct that led him to ask questions early on (see above), Church was one of the first senators to publicly oppose the Vietnam War in the 1960s, although he had supported the conflict earlier. He was the co-author of two legislative efforts to curtail the war: the Cooper–Church Amendment of 1970, and the Case–Church Amendment of 1973.
In September 1970, Church announced on television and in speeches across the country that "the doves had won." Author David F. Schmitz states that Church based his assertion on the fact that two key propositions of the anti-war movement, "A negotiated peace and the withdrawal of American troops," were now official policy. The only debate that remained would be over when to withdraw, not whether to withdraw, and over the meaning of the war. Church concluded:
So the last service the doves can perform for their country, is to insist that President Nixon's withdrawal program truly leads to a "Vietnamization" of the war. It must not become a device for lowering—and then perpetuating—an American military presence in South Vietnam for the indefinite future. Our long ordeal in this mistaken war must end. The gathering crisis in our own land, the deepening divisions among our people, the festering, unattended problems here at home, bear far more importantly on the future of our Republic than anything we ever had at stake in Indochina.
Church argued that the opponents of the Vietnam War needed to prevent the corruption of the nation and its institutions. To Church, the anti-war opposition was the "highest concept of patriotism—which is not the patriotism of conformity—but the patriotism of Senator Carl Schurz, a dissenter from an earlier period, who proclaimed: 'Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right: when wrong, to be put right."
Church gained national prominence during his service in the Senate through his chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities from 1975 through 1976, more commonly known as the Church Committee, which conducted extensive hearings investigating extra-legal FBI and CIA intelligence-gathering and covert operations. The committee investigated CIA drug smuggling activities in the Golden Triangle and secret U.S.-backed wars in Third World countries. Together with Senator Sam Ervin's committee inquiries, the Church Committee hearings laid the groundwork for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
Daniel Ellsberg quoted Church as speaking of the NSA as follows: "I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return." More specifically on August 17, 1975 Senator Frank Church stated on NBC's "Meet the Press" without mentioning the name of the NSA about this agency:
In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. These messages are between ships at sea, they could be between units, military units in the field. We have a very extensive capability of intercepting messages wherever they may be in the airwaves. Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left such is the capability to monitor everything—telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide.
If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.
Now why is this investigation important? I'll tell you why: because I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.
NSA monitoring of Senator Church's communicationsEdit
In a secret operation code-named "Project Minaret," the National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the communications of leading Americans, including Senators Church and Howard Baker, Dr. Martin Luther King, prominent U.S. journalists and athletes, who criticized the U.S. war in Vietnam. A review by NSA of the NSA's Minaret program concluded that Minaret was "disreputable if not outright illegal."
Environmental record and other issuesEdit
Church is also remembered for his voting record as a strong progressive and environmental legislator, and he played a major role in the creation of the nation's system of protected wilderness areas in the 1960s. In 1964, Church was the floor sponsor of the national Wilderness Act. In 1968, he sponsored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and gained passage of a ten-year moratorium on federal plans to transfer water from the Pacific Northwest to California. Working with other members of Congress from northwestern states, Church helped establish the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area along the Oregon-Idaho border, which protected the gorge from dam building. He was also the primary proponent in the establishment of the Sawtooth Wilderness and National Recreation Area in central Idaho in 1972.
Church also was instrumental in the creation of Idaho's River of No Return Wilderness in 1980, his final year in the Senate. This wilderness comprised the old Idaho Primitive Area, the Salmon River Breaks Primitive Area, plus additional lands. At 2.36 million acres (9,550 km²), over 3,600 square miles (9,300 km2), it is the largest wilderness area in the nation outside of Alaska. It was renamed the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in 1984, shortly after the diagnosis of his pancreatic cancer. Idaho Senator Jim McClure introduced the measure in the Senate in late February, and President Reagan signed the act on March 14, less than four weeks before Frank Church's death on April 7.
Frank Church was considered a progressive (remarkable considering that he represented one of the most conservative states in the nation), though he was a strong opponent of gun control. He, in 1979, was the first in Congress to disclose and protest the presence of Soviet combat troops in Cuba. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this stance somewhat disarmed his opponent's charge in the 1980 campaign that Church's performance on the Foreign Relations Committee had helped to weaken the US militarily. In 1974, Church joined Senator Frank Moss, D-Utah, to sponsor the first legislation to provide federal funding for hospice care programs. The bill did not have widespread support and was not brought to a vote. Congress finally included a hospice benefit in Medicare in 1982.
In late 1975 and early 1976, a sub-committee of the U.S. Senate led by Church concluded that members of the Lockheed board had paid members of friendly governments to guarantee contracts for military aircraft in a series of illegal bribes and contributions made by Lockheed officials from the late 1950s to the 1970s. In 1976, it was publicly revealed that Lockheed had paid $22 million in bribes to foreign officials in the process of negotiating the sale of aircraft including the F-104 Starfighter, the so-called "Deal of the Century."
Late political careerEdit
In 1976, Church belatedly sought the Democratic nomination for president and announced his candidacy on March 18 from rustic Idaho City, his father's birthplace. Although he won primaries in Nebraska, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana, he withdrew in favor of the eventual nominee, former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter. Church remains the only Idahoan to win a major-party presidential primary election following the reforms of the McGovern–Fraser Commission. Prior to the primary elections of 1972, William Borah had won several contests in the 1936 Republican primaries.
By June, Carter had the nomination sufficiently locked up and could take time to interview potential vice-presidential candidates. The pundits predicted that Church would be tapped to provide balance as an experienced senator with strong liberal credentials. Church promoted himself, persuading friends to intervene with Carter in his behalf. If a quick choice had been required as in past conventions, Carter later recalled, he would probably have chosen Church. But the longer period for deliberation gave Carter time to worry about his compatibility with the publicity-seeking Church, who had a tendency to be long-winded. Instead, Carter invited Senators Edmund Muskie, John Glenn, and Walter Mondale to visit his home in Plains, Georgia, for personal interviews, while Church, Henry M. Jackson, and Adlai Stevenson III would be interviewed at the convention in New York. Of all the potential candidates, Carter found Mondale the most compatible. As a result, Carter selected Mondale as his running mate.
In the late 1970s, Church was a main congressional supporter of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, which proposed to return the Panama Canal to Panama. The latter position proved to be widely unpopular in Idaho and led to the formation of the "Anybody But Church Committee" (ABC), committee created by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), based in Washington, D.C. ABC and NCPAC had no formal connection with the 1980 Senate campaign of conservative Republican congressman Steve Symms, which permitted them, under former Federal election law, to spend as much as they could raise to defeat Church.
Church lost in his attempt for a fifth term to Symms by less than one percent of the vote. His defeat was blamed on the activities of the Anybody But Church Committee and the national media's early announcement in Idaho of Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's overwhelming win. These predictions were broadcast before polls closed statewide, specifically in the Pacific Time Zone in the north. Many believed that this caused many Democrats in the more politically moderate Idaho Panhandle to not vote at all. As of 2017[update], Church is the last Democrat to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate.
|1956||Frank Church||149,096||56.2%||Herman Welker (inc.)||102,781||38.7%||Glen H. Taylor||Write-In||13,415||5.1%|
|1962||Frank Church (inc.)||141,657||54.7%||Jack Hawley||117,129||45.3%|
|1968||Frank Church (inc.)||173,482||60.3%||George V. Hansen||114,394||39.7%|
|1974||Frank Church (inc.)||145,140||56.1%||Bob Smith||109,072||42.1%||Jean L. Stoddard||American||4,635||1.8%|
|1980||Frank Church (inc.)||214,439||48.8%||Steve Symms||218,701||49.7%||Larry Fullmer||Libertarian||6,507||1.5%|
Three years after leaving the Senate, Church was hospitalized for a pancreatic tumor on January 12, 1984. Less than three months later, he died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, on April 7 at age 59. A memorial service was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and then his body was flown home to Idaho, where he lay in state beneath the rotunda of the Idaho State Capitol. His funeral was held in downtown Boise at the Cathedral of the Rockies on April 12 and televised throughout Idaho. Church was buried at Morris Hill Cemetery near his boyhood hero, Senator William Borah. His parents and paternal grandparents are also buried at Morris Hill, in the St. John's Catholic section. His maternal grandparents are buried across town in the Pioneer Cemetery, as are the Bayhouse great-grandparents.
Church received an honorary doctorate from Pennsylvania's Elizabethtown College in 1983 to honor his work for the American people during his career in public office. His papers, originally given to his alma mater Stanford University in 1981, were transferred to Boise State University at his request in 1984.
Warning about the NSAEdit
Church was stunned by what the Church Committee learned about the immense operations and electronic monitoring capabilities of the National Security Agency (NSA), an agency whose existence was unknown to most Americans at the time. Church stated in 1975:
That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide.
He is widely quoted as also stating regarding the NSA:
I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge... I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.
Commentators such as Glenn Greenwald have praised Church for his prescient warning regarding this turning around by the NSA to monitor the American people, arguing that the NSA undertook such a turning in the years after the September 11 Attacks.
This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website http://bioguide.congress.gov.
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- Encyclopedia of World Biography – Frank Forrester Church III
- Boise State University -The Frank Church Institute
- Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness (PDF) - user's guide
- Boise High School's Hall of Fame
- Morris Hill Cemetery - Boise, ID - Walking Tour
- Frank Church at Find a Grave
- Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute – Frank and Bethine Church
- Frank Church for President – 1976 campaign brochure
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