This morning in San Francisco begins with a visit to a phenomenal secretary who was with me until she retired in 1968 and came here to live. She is glad for the visit but not glad about much else. “I just wish I wasn’t so healthy.” She cannot walk much anymore. Her most arduous obligation is going once every now and again to post a letter, though at age 96 there aren’t many left to write to. From there to deliver a speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, the oldest continuing forum in America, we are reminded. The club is host to 500 speakers per year and is so vigilant of its budget (speakers are unpaid, which is the primary reason I haven’t spoken there since 1954), it uses volunteers to drive its speakers to corollary engagements. Our (my wife accompanied me. A very rare thing. Years ago, asked why she didn’t attend my speeches, she replied that if married to a dentist she would not feel any obligation to attend his extractions.) volunteer chauffeur, age 50, I’d guess, arrived in his Lexus, and we learned, on the drive to the airport, that the economy is indeed on a bumpy stretch, but real estate occupancy in Denver—60 percent of his clients’ holdings are in real estate—is doing well, at 96 percent occupancy.
My topic is the title of my book just now in paperback, Nearer My God. I devote half of my time to scoring the misappropriation of the First Amendment to the end not of denying the establishment of religion, which is about as likely as a return to slavery, but of inhibiting the free exercise of it. This is in part owing, I explain, to unfounded Jewish fear of Christian hegemony of a kind that did indeed, but would never now, cause discriminatory admissions practices a half century back. The audience (about 400, who defied the Columbus Day holiday) was receptive, and there was the problem that the master of ceremonies who introduced me had read in the current New Yorker my true confessions on the subject of public lecturing. But he is a Jesuit priest and president of the University of San Francisco, so he quoted only the most tepid passage from my jeremiad on the subject, so I went on to the subject of my talk and now, on the airplane, acquaint myself with the biographies of my guests tomorrow on Firing Line.