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resulted in the Old World from using the state to achieve religious purposes or using the churches to buttress the temporal authority. The totality of Jewish history is a devastatingly powerful argument for church-state separation. No matter what the land or the era, when any religious group was able to control the state, Jews were not free. We have been, throughout the centuries, living— and often dying-evidence of the persecution which flowed wherever church and state leagued together.
The First Amendment is not based upon any hostility to religion, but upon the sound premise that both religion and government can work best to achieve their objectives if each is free from the other within its respective sphere. This premise has nurtured the healthy development of over 250 different religious sects, denominations and groups in the United States, each dependent solely on the voluntary support of its adherents and not upon winning political power or receiving contributions from the public treasury.
Government has no and should have no constitutional power to concern itself with religion except to make sure it does not prohibit its free exercise. The Supreme Court did not rule out prayer, God, Bible reading or religious devotion. It merely reminded us that religious instruction and devotion belong in the church, the synagogue and the home and not in the public school. Prayer must come from the heart and not from the school board.
It must be remembered that we are a pluralistic society whose members adhere to many religions and to none. To seek the spiritual expression that could be introduced into public life would require government to find the lowest common denominator, creating a sterile kind of public religion which would satisfy the spiritual yearnings of no one. It is unreal to expect that a truly significant appreciation of religious values can be communicated to our children by the type of religious exercises to be validated by the Dirksen Amendment. The observances set up by school authorities will, in seeking to be least offensive, succeed only in being least meaningful and yet most pervasive. The tensions and religious strife that would be aroused would deeply rend the fabric of our democratic society.
One of the objections to prayer as part of public school exercises, notwithstanding provision for non-participation of objecting children, is the fact that the program places the stamp of approval of the state on the religious ceremony. This has the effect of coercing public school children to participate in a religious rite. The non-participating children are inevitably set apart as non-conformists and subjected to social and psychological pressure to modify their beliefs and conduct. The choices open to the non-participating child are all bad: he may ask to be excused and hence label himself as a non-conformist to his classmates; he may yield to the pressure and participate in the exercise despite the conflict with his beliefs.
The dilemma in which the child is thus placed is not of his own creation: it is created for him by the school authorities who attempt to conduct religious prayer as part of the public school program. The public school authorities, by introducing an exercise that is identifiably religious, are responsible for imposing the dilemma upon children who have been committed to their care solely for secular education.
Finally, the public school is the chief instrumentality of our nation to promote and preserve the unity of our people. It should not become a battleground among religious groups. Significant value derives from the fact that the public school system is financed by public funds, is responsive to the community as a whole, and is open to all without distinction as to race, creed, national origin or economic status.
The adoption of the amendment concerning prayer and Bible reading in the public schools should be resisted most strenuously because of the precedent it would create in altering the Bill of Rights which has stood unchanged for one hundred and seventy-five years. The whole purpose of the first ten amendments to the Constitution was to protect the rights of the minority, even though a very small group, from the crushing oppression of the majority. Human freedom will not last long if a momentarily unpopular Supreme Court decision is overturned by a constitutional amendment because the passions of the electorate are aroused. The responsibility of the legislator is the weighing of conscience and principle as well as the weighing of the expressions of his constituents. If the foundations of the Constitution were to bow to the wind of whatever popular passion stirs each generation, the entire Bill of Rights would already be a relic of history.
The fundamental liberties of an American are not subject to majority vote. My human rights and yours are not dependent upon the whim of any majority. This is precisely why we have a Bill of Rights. I urge this Committee not to abridge that fundamental document and therefore to oppose this proposed amendment.
STATEMENT OF POSITION OF JEWISH COMMUNITY COUNCIL OF METROPOLITAN DETROIT, MICH. WITH RESPECT TO CONSTITUTIONAL "PRAYER AMENDMENT"
The Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit is a voluntary association of 340 Detroit area Jewish organizations acting together on matters of common concern among themselves and in the public arena.
We record our views in opposition to S. J. Resolution 148, a proposal to permit or to provide for “voluntary participation” in prayers by public school students. We believe that many valid reasons, some historical and philosophical, others current or pragmatic, support our contention that this amendment, or any with a similar purpose, is unwise and harmful.
The amendment in itself purports to serve a goal that at best is illusory. While the language leaves its purpose undefined, the supposed objective is to instill a sense of religious reverence and morality. The rote recitation of prayer in a public school setting can be no substitute for, or even an acceptable supplement to, a genuine religious experience. We believe that this point is well stated in the position set forth by the Detroit area rabbis, a copy of which we attach hereto.
The amendment also represents a tampering with traditional constitutional guarantees that have been the foundation of the unique separation of church and state that our nation has enjoyed. Within this separation, religion and religious life have flourished. We deem it highly inappropriate and ill-advised to risk precedents that depart so radically from those principles which have so well stood the test of time, which have nutured religious vitality, and which have fostered inter-religious accord.
While the right of "voluntary participation" by the students is offered in the words of the proposal, it is clear that in practice many complications and embarrassments would arise. These relate to the acceptability of a particular prayer as well as to the inevitable, albeit subtle, pressure upon any student who does not wish to join in prayer or whose religious discipline discourages prayer outside of its proper setting. These elements could contribute to divisiveness rather than to preserving the unity of our public schools.
Principally and primarily, our objection is directed to the fact, clear to us, that a proposal such as this is demeaning to religion. It is a misguided effort which distorts rather than bolsters genuine expression of faith. The linking of any public agency, such as the schools, with the formalities of religion through a prescribed (or "voluntary") exercise, is to suggest that religiosity and religion may be accorded the same esteem.
We respectfully invite your attention to the additional statement submitted herewith, that of our Detroit area rabbis. The leadership they have assumed and views which they have set forth have our complete support.
REGARDING RELIGION AND PUBLIC LIFE
We believe that religion cannot occupy an obscure corner of our society, nor be exhausted by a formal exercise. Religion functions best and awakens the strongest commitment in the context of a tradition, and in association with symbols and practices laden with spiritual and emotional power. This is the basis of our objection to linking any governmental agency with religion. Only the home and church and synagogue can send forth into our society religiouslyrooted and ethically sensitive individuals. Religion will thus serve our society by giving its adherents a moral and spiritual perspective in which to view our problems and current challenges. Religion, preserving its indigenous and independent character, drawing upon the full strength of its particular history and tradition, will have something more to say than a religion reduced to common elements and isolated forms.
It is out of a deeply religious concern that we oppose the present attempts to introduce prayer or any type of religious observance in our public schools. As rabbis and religious leaders, we are individually and collectively committed to
the strengthening of religious life. We re-affirm, however, our frequently stated conviction that to have significance, religious expression must be in its proper setting of the home, the church or the synagogue, and in the nuances of its own particular tradition. To the extent that prayer is removed from this setting, we believe that sincere religious expression is demeaned and that the unique impact of religious values upon our public life is weakened. Public school prayers must inevitably weaken the foundations of spiritual life, by substituting for them a form which is bereft of content. Accordingly, we believe that public authority must not allow itself to be involved in actions which dilute the integrity of an individual's faith, degrade the intensity and reverence essential to a religious experience, and correspondingly diffuse the intensity with which religion should express itself on certain social issues.
Hon. BIRCH BAYH,
JEWISH COMMUNITY RELATIONS COUNCIL OF MINNESOTA,
St. Paul, Minn., July 29, 1966.
U.S. Senator and Chairman, Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, D.C.
DEAR SENATOR BAYH: The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota is an organization which coordinates the activities of all organized Jewish groups, temples and synagogues in the state of Minnesota.
We also include within our group the Minnesota Rabbinical Association which represents the rabbis of the state of Minnesota.
This letter is being forwarded to you in the hope that you will share it with the members of your Committee regarding our strong and unqualified opposition to the passage of the Dirksen Prayer Amendment.
We believe that if passed, this Amendment will set a precedent for further assaults on the freedom of religion clause in our precious Bill of Rights and whenever the Supreme Court hands down a decision protecting civil liberties, that a rash of Amendments will be introduced to destroy the integrity and the meaning of our third branch of government, the Judiciary.
A decision upholding freedom of speech, or of the press, or of association, may well evoke an Amendment further cutting down the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is America's most precious heritage; it would be disastrous if disaffection with this or that Supreme Court decision should lead to its step-by-step weakening or destruction.
Since the adoption of the First Amendment, the United States has escaped much of the bitter religious conflict and sectarian strife that has divided other nations. This has been due, in a major part, to the truly great contribution the American people have made to Western civilization; the concept of the separation of church and state. The Dirksen Amendment is a direct assault upon this principle.
The Dirksen Amendment speaks of a "voluntary basis," but every educator knows, and many courts have recognized, that it is unrealistic to speak of voluntary action on the part of young children in the public schools.
As Supreme Court Justice Brennan said in the Bible-Prayer Decision, in speaking of a provision for excusing from participation those children who ask to be excused, "By requiring what is tantamount, in the eyes of teachers and school mates, to a profession of disbelief, or at least non-conformity, the procedure may well deter those children who do not wish to participate for any reason, based upon the dictates of conscience from exercising an indisputably constitutional right to be excused. Thus, the excusal provision in its operation subjects them to a cruel dilemma. In consequence, even devout children may well avoid claiming their right and simply continue to participate in exercises distasteful to them because of an understandable reluctance to be stigmatized as atheists or non-conformists simply on the basis of their requests." The public school is the chief instrumentality of our nation to promote and preserve the unity of our people. Sectarian prayers or similar practices in the public schools can have no more damaging effect than by dividing the children into groups of Protestants against Catholics, Christians against Jews, believers against non-believers.
Children of different religious pray in different ways. Some kneel and cross themselves, some clasp their hands and bow their heads, some pray with head
covered and some with head uncovered. And to some, all public prayer is objectionable. Different religions, too, hold sacred different versions of the Bible. Catholics do not accept the King James version; Jews do not accept the New Testament, and Buddhists in the state of Hawaii do not accept as holy any part of the Bible. In each community there will be, as has happened so often in the past, conflict and controversy as to whose Bible shall be read and where prayers shall be recited. If there is one place which should be kept entirely free of sectarian strife and religious rivalries, it is the public school.
It is unreal to expect that an appreciation of religious values can be communicated by the rote recitation of formalized prayer in the public school class rooms. Whatever is good and meaningful in prayer must, inevitably, be lost by its mechanical repetition in an atmosphere devoid of the religious spirit which only the home, church and synagogue can provide. If the prayer selected by state authorities for public school recitation is taken from the liturgy of one faith, the action is unfair to and in violation of the religious freedoms of children adhering to other faiths. If it is formulated so as to appear non-sectarian, it not only infringes upon the rights of those affiliated with no religious body, but it poses the danger of a new, public school religion which, in seeking to be least offensive, will succeed only in being meaningful and yet more pervasive. When the Becker Amendment was being considered in Congress, many prominent national and local organizations opposed the passage of this Amendment which was almost identical to the Dirksen Amendment. These organizations were the National Council of Churches of Christ; Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States; Lutheran Church in America; United Presbyterian Church; the Baptist Churches; the Methodist Church; there was considerable Catholic opposition as evidenced by the Catholic Universe Bulletin of Cleveland; the Catholic Chronicle of Toledo; the Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati; the Catholic World; the Catholic Herald Citizen, Milwaukee; and the Catholic Bulletin of St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition, the Sovereign Grand Commander, the Honorable Luther A. Smith, of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Masonic organization, warned against the passage of such an Amendment and indicated it would be harmful to the preservation of our Bill of Rights. I am enclosing a photocopy of the editorial written by the Honorable Luther A. Smith, as well as of an editorial which was reprinted in the Catholic Bulletin in St. Paul, Minnesota, from the Catholic Universe Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio.
A recent series of situations has occurred which should indicate why it is most dangerous to open the door “even a crack" relative to the principle of separation of church and state. The situation dealing with the Christmas postage stamp is a very good case in point. When talk of issuing a Christmas postage stamp first arose and opposition began to be heard, assurances were given by the Post Office Department that such Christmas stamps would be non-sectarian in character and would only be decorative and not religious in character. This was true for the first two years and then, last year, a bit of religion crept into the postage stamps by a picture of Gabriel blowing his horn appearing thereon. This year the full turn has taken place and a picture of the Madonna and Child will appear on the Christmas postage stamp. The stamp now definitely takes on a Christian sectarian content and is definitely religious in character.
It is also interesting to note that some of the Fundamentalist Protestants who are most concerned relative to getting the Dirksen Amendment passed are the same individuals who recently began a law suit in the state of Washington against the University of Washington to restrain the University from teaching about the Bible as literature for the reason that the Bible was being taught by professors in a manner inconsistent with the beliefs of these Fundamentalist ministers. Therefore, they want to call a halt to the practice of teaching about the Bible because it was not being taught to their liking. If we open the door to religion in the public schools with the sanction of government behind such activities, there is no doubt but that within three to five years the various individual teachers in the public schools will be using prayers to their liking and not universal prayers which can be accepted by Catholic, Protestant and Jew. This will make, of the public school room, a battle ground where all citizens will be demanding of the teacher that the prayer used be in conformity with their own religous conscience, beliefs and practices.
Our great country has prospered in every way and our religious groups are becoming stronger in the United States than anywhere else in the world. This
is primarily due to the fact that we have had the principle of separation of church and state adhered to and our government has supported this concept. At this date in our history, it would be tragic were we to, in any manner, "chip away" at this great foundation stone of religious liberty as given to us by our forefathers and who came to this country fleeing from religious persecution and terror in order to set up a government where each man could worship according to his own conscience and without being pressured or compelled to conform to a particular majority religion which happens to find itself in that position in a particular American community for the moment.
Our organization will appreciate your making our statement part of the official record registering our official opposition to the passage of the Dirksen Amendment. Thank you for your cooperation.
PHILIP J. KRELITZ, President.
[From the Catholic Bulletin, St. Paul, Minn.]
STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN!
Rumblings from Capitol Hill indicate there is some life left in the movement started many months ago to pass an amendment to the first amendment of the Constitution which would undertake to reverse the decisions of the Supreme Court in the prayer and Bible reading cases.
Our New Age readers and others interested in preserving religious freedom and separation of church and state should take note of this new agitation. The success of this movement would be disastrous to the religious harmony in the United States enjoyed by our people for nearly two centuries because of the famous 17-word sentence which the Founding Fathers put into the first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The Supreme Court held in the cases referred to above that no governmental agency may formulate prayers or religious exercises and require them to be used in the public schools because to do so would violate the above provision of the Constitution. The purpose of the amendment which is proposed in the Congress is to change the law so that state governments may have the power to set up religious establishments and teach religious practices in the public schools.
The question will immediately arise as to which of the more than 200 different religions will be taught. Since nothing arouses the ire of people more than religious controversy, will it not be a distinct disservice to our schools and children to make the school rooms arenas for such squabbles? It will be a big step backward toward the days of religious intolerance and persecution. Our public schools are secular institutions dedicated to teaching academic subjects such as mathematics, geography, the languages, history, etc. During school hours let nothing interfere with or hamper the success of this great educational process.
If the parents in the homes and the ministers and laymen in the churches and Sunday schools cannot teach children such religious and spiritual subjects as they may need, we are really in a bad way and have been derelict in discharging the responsibility reposed in us by the Founders when they implicitly said that religion is a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the people and with which the Government is prohibited to have anything to do. Public schools are agencies of Government.
The very integrity and usefulness of the public schools are involved in this question. If the teachers are to be called upon to teach religion and religious practices as an official part of the curriculum, a little reflection upon human nature and experience would seem to indicate that there would be confusion. disharmony, controversy, and distraction among the children and their parentsall to the injury of the educational character of the schools and their social peace and harmony.
It is hoped that the readers of The New Age and all friends of the public schools will see the dangers involved in tampering with the constitutional safeguards established by the Founding Fathers for the protection of religious liberty in these schools. The only safe way to do it is to rely on ourselves, our homes, Sunday schools, and churches to teach religion and religious practices to our children and to deny all governmental agencies any and all power to discharge