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STATEMENT OF GARY G. COHEN, REPRESENTING PROTESTANT MINISTERS FOR SCHOOL PRAYERS AND BIBLE READING
Mr. COHEN. I would like to certainly express my thanks, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, for this opportunity to appear, and I trust that my testimony will not be overly long, and that we will certainly be finished before 1 o'clock.
Senator BAYH. May I say that Senator Tydings, who had an emergency come up and had to leave here for about 20 minutes, was particularly interested in your testimony, and asked that we try to proceed here until he is able to come back, which will be at 1 o'clock. He would like to get your thoughts, if you have no objection to it.
Mr. COHEN. Excuse me, yes, I was just saying that I am grateful that you kept the hearings on even though it was past 12:30, so I would be happy to stay.
Senator BAYH. Yesterday, we went until, I think it was, a quarter of 6 before we got out. We are not trying to prolong this, but we appreciate your tolerance.
Mr. COHEN. Well, thank you, sir.
Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee, many interesting and informative arguments are being offered to this subcommittee to convince its members that school prayers should or should not be offered. I side with those who support voluntary prayer in school and who desire to see this Nation so recognize God. I believe that all American schoolchildren should be just as free as the Members of the U.S. Senate to open their day with prayer.
For the purpose of my testimony, I should like to turn the attention of this subcommittee to an issue which is often overlooked but one which must be emphasized.
I submit that the primary issue before Congress is whether or not provision will now be made to remove the nationwide prohibition of school prayers, or at least a de facto prohibition in the minds of the people, so that the Americans again may have the freedom to decide for themselves to pray or not to pray in their own schools.
A nationwide prohibition, and as brought out it may be a de facto prohibition unless and until the Supreme Court makes a clarifying decision that school prayer and Bible reading surely does exist. As a result of several recent Supreme Court majority opinions, State agencies, school boards, local schools, and individual teachers everywhere are expected to prohibit classroom prayers and Bible reading. In some parts of the country schools were required to discontinue the practice of prayer immediately. In other places school boards and even States have continued to permit daily prayer and Bible reading. assuming that particular opinions of the Supreme Court do not apply to them.
However, whenever the continued practice of voluntary prayer is legally challenged, the courts seem to feel compelled to decide against school prayer. Such decisions do not claim necessarily to be based on the merits of the local case, but on the precedent established by the majority opinions of the Supreme Court. Thus bit by bit the prohibition of school prayers and Bible reading is applied to community after community throughout the Nation with the certainty of inevitability.
The city of Hawthorne, N.J., provides an illustration of this process. The School Board of Hawthorne, which had previously permitted prayer and Bible reading in the schools in its district, decided that the Supreme Court's opinions did not apply to Hawthorne. No legal challenge to the board's decision arose from the community. However, the attorney general of the State of New Jersey, acting on the precedent of the Supreme Court's decisions, imposed his objection to Hawthorne by taking the school board to court and winning a decision, compelling the board to discontinue school prayers. Hawthorne learned that the Supreme Court's decisions are considered the "law of the land" and do indeed apply to Hawthorne, regardless of the desires of the people of Hawthorne.
Similar illustrations could be made. The point is that a national prohibition of school prayers and Bible reading has abolished the freedom of American communities to decide for themselves whether or not they will permit prayers in their own schools.
Gentlemen, I wish to suggest that a national prohibition of school prayers is undesirable. Our Nation is composed of 190 million citizens who come from various religious backgrounds. They hold to differing views on religious exercises in public schools and elsewhere. Total prohibition of prayer in schools is only one of those views. Currently, that view-prohibition of prayer-enjoys the privileged position of National Government support, backed by the police power of the State. Such support of one view above all others on a national level unwarrantedly interferes with the freedom of citizens in all parts of the Nation to determine how they shall exercise their religious views.
The proposed constitutional amendment now being considered by this subcommittee would explicitly lift the national prohibition of prayer; again, not legally wishing to render an opinion whether it is nationally prohibited or not, but there is certainly a feeling that there is, and, in fact, I believe there is, personally. It would thereby immediately restore the freedom for communities to decide whether or not to permit prayer in their schools.
If and when the Senate is permitted to come to a vote on the proposed constitutional amendment, it can vote only one of the two positions: (1) A two-thirds majority supporting the amendment would approve the position that the process of terminating the prohibition of prayer should be initiated; on the other hand, (2) defeat of the amendment would support the position that the national prohibition of prayer should remain in force.
Thus, approval of the proposed amendment would assure that no one religious view would enjoy Federal Government support over another. It would mean that people in their own communities could decide the matter for themselves, making use of the channels of policymaking available to them.
On the other hand, defeat of the proposed amendment would be tantamount, or may be so interpreted, to the Senate's asserting that only one religious view on school prayers may stand in America. No differing practices would be permitted anywhere in any community in any part of the country under any circumstances. School prayers would be forbidden everywhere; no school or community could choose to follow any other position.
Yet the evidence continued to demonstrate that Americans overwhelmingly do favor another position-namely, the freedom to pray. The Senators have repeatedly heard opinions from their constituents concerning school prayer and Bible reading. All of us have seen the numerous polls which consistently show that as high as 80 to 90 percent of the American people want prayer and Bible reading in the schools. During the last 3 years in community after community individuals and groups coming from all walks of life have clamored for the freedom to pray. Many Governors, the Nation's mayors, teachers, politicians, civic organizations, veterans groups, parents clubs, garden clubs, religious groups-all have asked that the prohibition be lifted and that they be free to decide in their own community to pray or not
However, one group of people has appeared, surprisingly, to be in opposition to prayer-and that is the clergy. The official organs and the spokesmen for a number of church groups with imposing names have done much to create the impression that ministers, as a body politic, oppose prayer in school for reasons which they are quick to list. Many of us Protestant ministers found it difficult to accept the proposition that American ministers opposed school prayers and Bible reading, and that is what I represent. We began to suspect that a false impression that ministers opposed prayers had been created artificially. Many of us discussed this disturbing problem and felt that it was time for ministers to demonstrate that clergymen, at least a high percentage if not the overwhelming percentage, do in fact favor voluntary prayer and Bible reading in the schools. We were given the help of International Christian Youth-U.S.A., a national Protestant youth organization, which, in previous years, has done much to make known the nationwide support of school prayers. I might comment that this group was the group that gathered the signatures on the Becker amendment. They were able to gather two and a half million signatures. However, what I am presenting here are not the signatures of two and a half million for the Becker amendment-laymen, but merely the signatures of ministers.
Today, I have in my hand to present to this subcommittee the names of nearly 4,000 Protestant ministers; in fact, it is over 3,900 Protestant ministers, from more than-and the text says 70, but it should be 83 Protestant denominations and all 50 States who constitute the informal committee known as Protestant Ministers for School Prayers and Bible Reading.
I have here a list of 83 denominations from which members signed this, ministers signed this, and it is quickly obvious that many of the signatures which favor school prayer and Bible reading are members of groups whose leaders oppose it.
We, 4,000 ministers, have readily and quickly endorsed a statement expressing our convictions, and this statement which these 4,000 ministers signed:
As a Protestant minister, I wish to state my firm conviction that, due to recent Supreme Court decisions, provision now needs to be made in the United States of America for individuals, on a voluntary basis, to be free to pray and to read the Holy Bible in our public schools and, in general, to recognize Almighty God in the public life of our Nation.
Additional signatories are being added at a rapid rate; we estimate that Protestant Ministers for School Prayers and Bible Reading will double within a very short time. The work of Protestant Ministers for School Prayers and Bible Reading actively dispels the impression-created by the staff members of some church organizationsthat American clergy oppose prayer in schools.
As you well know, most ministers meet with a congregation of people at least once and often several times a week. Others, such as myself, are professors in colleges and seminaries where we meet regularly with the brightest young minds of our churches. We ministers are in a position to know the opinions of the grassroots population who have signed this petition, or these cards rather.
Before the Senate, either through this subcommittee or the body as a whole, decides not to approve the proposed constitutional amendment, it must be reminded of these opinions of so many of the American people, including the ministers.
The Senate has the opportunity to set in motion a process by which the freedom of decision on school prayers may be restored to American communities, school boards and school systems. The Senate, joined by the House of Representatives, may submit the amendment to the people for their ratification through their State legislatures. I submit that each community needs to be free to make up its own mind, making use of the normal processes of policymaking available to it. Let the people of Ephrata, Pa., determine a policy which differs from Brooklyn if they will. Let the people of Chinatown, San Francisco, differ from Fort Wayne, Ind., if they will.
Let me just say this thought which suddenly struck me as I am reading this. I would just like the chairman to understand that the words "Fort Wayne, Ind." were not especially addressed to you, sir, in any sort of compulsory manner, but it was just used as an example that came up. We would not want you to think there was any design
Senator BAYH. I am hurt, disillusioned. I thought, perhaps, this was some recognition that there are places in Indiana which can be appropriately designated for some degree of recognition. But if you do not desire me to be impressed thus, I will certainly not be. [Laughter.]
Mr. COHEN. Excuse me. In fact, I will say, not to take the time of the committee
Senator BAYH. The record will show we are having a little jesting session here.
Mr. COHEN. Thank you.
I took my doctoral study at Grace Seminary in Indiana, and I think I spent the finest 2 years of my life in your State, so I am very grateful, sir.
Senator BAYH. The record will show the witness is not jesting when he referred to that.
Mr. COHEN. Let us not require national conformity to any one particular religious view on school prayers, but let the American people decide for themselves in their own communities what position they will take. Prayer is far too personal a matter and religious convictions are too far diversified for the Supreme Court or any other national body to require national conformity to one religious view or another.
Gentlemen, permit me to draw an analogy from our Nation's history. Scarcely a generation ago this country experienced another national prohibition-the prohibition of "intoxicating liquors." Large numbers of people who held strong convictions against alcoholic beverages managed to compel all of the people of the United States to conform to their particular view of liquor. All Americans were prohibited from manufacturing, selling, transporting, importing, or exporting liquors. The police power of the state was expressly brought to bear on those who did not share the established view of prohibition.
For more than 13 years this national prohibition existed. Then, in 1933, after many years of confusion and disturbance, the prohibition was removed by means of a constitutional amendment. The American people through their Congress and their State legislatures expressed the opinion that a national uniform policy against liquor was undesirable. They believed that the question of whether or not communities or States should permit the manufacture, sale, or transportation of liquor should be determined freely by the communities themselves. In the years since 1933, communities have solved the problem for themselves. Some have chosen to prohibit the sale of liquor within their boundaries while others have permitted it. The people of Ocean City, N.J., have chosen a policy different from that of New York City. The people of Gainesville, Tex., differ from Chicago.
The moral of the story is this: while liquor and prayer, of course, differ, the principle underlying the removal of the two prohibitions is the same the freedom of community decision rather than national prohibition.
Let us remove the present national prohibition of prayer.
Gentlemen, permit me to close by reminding you that prayer is simply the recognition of God. As Americans we all share in a wonderful religions and cultural heritage which is rooted in our acknowledgment that God does indeed govern in the affairs of men. Countless institutions of our Nation, as well as its every coin, demonstrate the fact that the United States as a Nation does even today recognize God in its public life. I personally as a chaplain in the Pennsylvania National Guard-rather than in the U.S. Army as contained in my prepared statement-stand in testimony of this fact, that is, the chaplaincy is a recognition of God although I did not speak officially for this group.
I ask that you take the action which will differentiate us from the Communist countries in which one who offers a prayer to Almighty God in a public school might be subject to arrest by the state.
I ask, respectfully, that you take the action which will again permit this God-blessed Nation to disharge the obligation of gratitude which it has to the Almighty. In the words of the First Inaugural Address of George Washington, "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States" (30 April 1789).
I ask that you take the action which will make our schoolchildren just as free to begin their days with prayer, as are the Members of the U.S. Senate.
I ask, on behalf of the nearly 4,000 American ministers who have already endorsed our statement, that you "let my people go" to be free to recognize Almighty God in the public life of our Nation.