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but that it restrains governments from the formulation and promotion of official prayers. Accordingly, while some few initial reactions were in defense of the right to pray, the full force of deliberate Baptist opinion has been in defense of religious liberty by this proper restraint on government. In the regular meeting of the Joint Committee on Public Affairs, October 2-3, 1962, the entire record was reviewed, and the following statement adopted by the committee:
“We concur with the decision of the Supreme Court in Engel v. Vitale that prayer 'composed by Government officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs' is and should be unconstitutional. We think, along with the Court, that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.'
“We further believe, in the words of the Court, 'that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves and to those the people choose to look to for religious guidance.'
"We find that the decision in the New York Regents' Prayer case (Engel v. Vitale) the Court made no attempt to limit or restrict the prayer life of the people, but that the decision was a restraint on government from regulating such prayer life. This decision is in harmony with the voluntary nature of genuine religious experience. Its effect should be to challenge the churches and the homes of the Nation to become more responsible for the religious nurture of the people and not to look to government for this function.
"It is our belief that the first amendment provides satisfactory safeguards for the religious liberty of our people and of our churches. Since it clearly states that there shall be no establishment of religion, and that the free exercise of religion shall not be prohibited, we believe that the first amendment should stand unaltered as it now appears in the Bill of Rights.”
Whatever differences of opinion may exist among Baptists, on the scope of government, apparently we are now dealing with an item on which there is an exceptional agreement. This agreement is the product of a long history in which religion has frequently been made to serve political ends, and in which man's freedom and responsibility, under God, has often been challenged by persons holding civic authority.
We have followed, with some care, the various expressions of sentiments which have been laid before the public with reference to the Court's decision. Many of these expressions seem to be irrelevant to the actual decision. Many have dealt with possible abuses which could develop in some future interpretations. However, I am confident that this able committee of the Senate will not propose a constitutional revision which is irrelevant to the actual determination of the present time. I am, therefore, compelled to assume that the committee is exploring the possible need of a revision which would authorize State or local boards of education to formulate, prescribe, and/or promote official prayer in the public schools.
There can be little doubt that any proposal to make legislation of prayer formulas constitutional will be critically analyzed by our Baptist pastors and our Baptist people. This will be done as a defense of the American heritage, accepting the period since 1789 as our true national heritage rather than the practices of the colonial establishments. It will also be done as a defense of freedom of the people from governmental regulation of the inner man, as a defense of sincerity in religious participation, and, accordingly, as a defense against the evils of communism and secularism.
Any attempt to formulate official prayers by means of political procedures and processes could only lead to a reopening of old struggles and oppressions. The attempt would throw into the political arena all of the differences on approach, position, time, verbal formulas, artifacts, and meanings which various Americans find and use in prayer.
Baptists have been strong supporters of good public education. The central purposes of such education are to produce civic competence in all of the people, to enable all to contribute their full potential to the economy and the culture of the community. These schools are designed to perpetuate American culture, but Baptists are not ordinarily prone to treat religion in general, nor prayer specifically, as being simply national culture. Ideally, we would view the public
school as an agency of community life with the maximum possible freedom but within the proper constitutional limits which protect the rights of the people.
This will mean that there may be other determinations yet to be made regarding the proper balance between the no-establishment provision vis-a-vis the norestraint clause of the first amendment. The present restraint on the role of government, which we will generally support, does not settle other questions which may arise regarding the propriety of voluntary prayer or religious exercises on the initiative of teachers or pupils. These may involve future rulings but we would hope that the tensions may be resolved by community good will and consideration. We are hopeful that the Court will again prove to be a friend of religious liberty if or when questions should arise which challenge the free exercise of religion.
The broad consensus among Baptists on these matters is well portrayed by a reading of the printed materials. Accordingly, I submit for the committee's record a generous sampling of Baptist thought from June 27 to the present date.
A much larger compilation of similar statements by responsible Baptist leaders could be assembled, but these will be sufficient to illustrate the consensus of Baptist thinking on the subject at hand. All of these items have received wide circulation in Baptist publications throughout the Nation.
[1. Baptist Press feature, June 27, 1962]
CARLSON CALLS FOR DELIBERATION ON PRAYER LEGISLATION
(By C. Emanuel Carlson, executive director, Baptist Joint Committee on
At the March meeting of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs the problem of proper religious expressions in the public schools was placed on the agenda for next October. Arrangements were made for the preparation of materials for discussion and action. The committee may have something to say as a committee in October. In the meantime, I speak only for myself. Nevertheless, I must urge that we keep the issue clear, and encourage a thoughtful public discussion of it. Out of such a discussion, carried out in a spirit of good will, we Americans may rediscover the nature of true prayer.
In the New York Prayer case, the Supreme Court has really faced only one issue--shall government agencies direct the prayers of the American people? This question points to the very heart of the Baptist movement. Present-day Baptists will want to proceed deliberately and prayerfully as they formulate their role in this new public debate on an old, old problem. The information service of our office will offer full text of the Court's decision and a running account of the discussions. Baptists will be particularly interested because the decision recounts much of our distress in the past. The decision is full of Baptist history, and of Baptist insights.
All friends of genuine prayer experience must obviously be cautious about the devising of prayers by government agencies. Unfortunately, some have thought the question to be whether they were for or against prayer.
Much of the confusion apparently has resulted from the prior arguments used. In the comments of recent months the missing factor was clarity as to what prayer is. When one thinks of prayer as sincere outreach of a human soul to the Creator, "required prayer” becomes an absurdity. The “recitation of a prayer" has been called morally uplifting without recognizing that hypocrisy is the worst of moral corrosion. Some have felt that our “national heritage” is in danger, without realizing that the distinctive of our heritage is not legislated prayer but a people praying in freedom under the guidance of their church and of the Spirit of God. The strangeness of the present debate is that the call for "less government” coincides with a public defense for government-formulated prayer. Obviously, we need time to rethink the New Testament premises of our faith and practice, and also to rethink the meaning of American history.
Fortunately there are two provisions in the freedom of religion clause of the first amendment. There shall be no “establishment,” and there shall be no "restraint on the free exercise.” I hope the Court will defend both.
During the intense discussions that are probable, Baptists will want to assist the American public come to a true understanding and experience of prayer. The issues of our day, including the problems of communism and of secularization, will not be solved by the prayer formulas set up by official agencies. As Americans, we must go deeper than legislation and conformity in order to meet the call of God upon us in our day.
[2. Baptist Press news report, June 27, 1962]
PRAYER BY LEGISLATION VIOLATES CONSTITUTION WASHINGTON.-Prayer “composed by governmental officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs" is unconstitutional, according to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court ruled (6 to 1) that the so-called regents' prayer in the State of New York violates the establishment clause of the first amendment. The prayer says:
"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”
The State board of regents in New York is a governmental agency created by the State constitution. It has broad supervisory, executive, and legislative powers over the State's public school system.
In 1951, these State officials composed the prayer for use in the public schools every morning along with the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States. The teacher was obliged to conduct this opening exercise, but the pupils participated or refused to participate voluntarily.
The Court presented a 15-page opinion, read by Mr. Justice Black. Mr. Justice Douglas concurred with the decision, but for a different reason from that given by the others. Mr. Justice Stewart presented a six-page dissent.
In ruling out the regents' prayer the Court said: “We think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government."
An officially composed and administered prayer by government constitutes an "establishment” of religion, according to the Court. This is expressly forbidden by the first amendment.
The Court went out of its way to point out that its action is not hostility toward religion or prayer. It is for the protection of religion and to guarantee its free exercise that the Court arrived at its conclusions, the decision said.
“It is neither sacrilegious nor antireligious to say that each separate government in this country should stay out of the business of writing or sanctioning official prayers and leave that purely religious function to the people themselves and to those the people choose to look to for religious guidance," the Court said.
In its opinion the Court reviewed the struggle for religious freedom in England and in early America. It pointed out the bitter controversies that raged in England over the Book of Common Prayer which was created under governmental direction. Religious groups fought fiercely to gain the favor of the reigning monarch to revise the Book of Common Prayer in accord with their particular viewpoints.
The Court said that the founders of America and the writers of the Constitution had these events fresh in their minds when they added the first amendment. “Our founders were no more willing to let the content of their prayers and their privilege of praying whenever they pleased be influenced by the ballot box than they were to let these vital matters of personal conscience depend upon the succession of monarchs,” the opinion said.
Two purposes of the establishment clause of the first amendment were explained by the Court. The first was "a belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion.” The second "rested upon an awareness of the historical fact that governmentally established religions and religious persecutions go hand in hand.”
The Court said that one of the reasons that many people fled state-established religion and religious persecution in Europe was that they were "filled with the hope that they could find a place in which they could pray when they pleased to the God of their faith in the language they chose.”
It is unfortunate, the Court pointed out, that many of these same people established rigid religious regulations when they arrived in America. It is this kind of religious coercion that the first amendment was designed to prevent. This is the import of this recent decision in the New York Prayer case.
The Court recalled the persecution by established religion such as endured by John Bunyan. The battle for religious liberty in Virginia led by the Baptists, Presbyterians, and others was reviewed by the Court. Roger Williams was lauded for his contribution to the nature of true religion and the proper relations between church and state.
The Court anticipated misinterpretation and misuse of its ruling on the regents' prayer. To answer this, the Court said :
"There is, of course, nothing in the decision reached here that is inconsistent with the fact that schoolchildren and others are officially encouraged to express love for our country by reciting historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence which contain references to the Deity or by singing officially espoused anthems which include the composer's professions of faith in a Supreme Being, or with the fact that there are many manifestations in our public life of belief in God. Such patriotic or ceremonial occasions bear no true resemblance to the unquestioned religious exercise that the State of New York has sponsored in this instance.”
While concurring with the decision of the majority, Mr. Justice Douglas criticized the other judges for basing their opinion on the view that the New York prayer constituted an establishment of religion. He said that “the point for decision is whether the government can constitutionally finance a religious exercise.”
Justice Douglas cited 18 kinds of "aids” from the Government for religion now available. He said that there is a long list of additional aids in each State. The context in which he made his remarks would indicate that he considered them all unconstitutional.
The lone dissenting opinion was voiced by Mr. Justice Stewart. He said that he did not agree that the regents' prayer is an "official religion." Since he held that New York had not interfered with the free exercise of anybody's religion, he said, “I think this decision is wrong."
(3. Resolution, executive board, Long Run Association of Baptists in Louisville, Ky.,
July 2, 1962]
Whereas the Supreme Court ruling of last week on official prayer in the public schools has far-reaching implications for the religious life and practice of our Nation, and whereas this decision has caused widespread concern and discussion among the public at large, we, the members of the executive board of the Long Run Association of Baptists in Louisville, Ky., hereby resolve:
1. That the citizens note carefully the exact nature and scope of the Court's ruling. It did not rule unconstitutional all forms of prayer in the public schools. Rather, it prohibited a specific 22-word prayer because it was formulated and enforced by an arm of the government. The central issue is not : Should prayer be offered in the public school? It is rather: Should the government prescribe prayers? The Court's opinion is summarized in this sentence from Justice Black's majority opinion: “It is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government." The Court went out of its way to say that this opinion is not antireligious or opposed to the general practice of prayer. It addressed itself exclusively to the role of government in defining and demanding a religious exercise.
2. In the light of our Baptist heritage, which has played a significant role in the creation and preservation of religious liberty in this country and which has always advocated the separation of church and state, we commend the majority decision of the Supreme Court.
3. We profoundly regret that great misunderstanding has come from this decision. Our Nation has suffered both at home and abroad because the issue has been interpreted as antireligious or atheistic in spirit. We should clarify the situation and point out that these damaging results have come from misinterpretation and not from the action of the Supreme Court itself .
This resolution was unanimously adopted at the official meeting of the executive board of the Long Run Association on July 2, 1962.
[4. The Illinois Baptist, Illinois Baptist State Association, L. H. Moore, editor, July 4,
1962 (circulation, 19,077)]
THE REGENTS' PRAYER The Supreme Court decision on the regents' prayer merits careful attention. Not since their decision on school segregation has the Court been the target of such criticism as greeted their June 25 decision.
Local reaction as reported in this issue of the Illinois Baptist was representative of that reported over the Nation by the press, radio, and television.
But the Court did not outlaw prayer in school. It decreed instead that no school board (or any other official board) could formulate an official prayer and require its use in the schools. Most Baptists, we feel, when they have thought this over will agree with this decision.
Baptists would not like their children forced to pray, “Hail Mary, full of grace, etc.," just because a board of education that was Catholic required it. Most Baptists like to do their own praying. To be forced to repeat a prepared prayer is not in keeping with our concept of religious freedom, or the exercise of prayer, for that matter.
The Court specifically said, “There is nothing in the decision reached here that is inconsistent with the fact that schoolchildren and others are specifically encouraged to express love for country by reciting historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence which contains reference to the Diety or by singing officially espoused anthems which include the composer's profession of faith in a Supreme Being
**" The Court said that prayer "composed by governmental officials as a part of a government program to further religious beliefs" is unconstitutional.
In this I concur. This is the function of the home and the church, not that of the state or school. (5. Baptist Standard, Baptist General Convention of Texas, E. S. James, editor, July 4,
1962 (circulation, 370,953)]
PRAYER IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL If one may judge public opinion by what he reads in the papers and hears over the radio today (June 27) he must conclude that the American people think God has been driven from the public school room by the U.S. Supreme Court. With the possible exception of its ruling on racial integration, nothing has so stirred the citizens of this country; but as is so often the case, too many of them have formed and expressed opinions without analyzing the matter. The Standard hopes to publish more of the text of the opinions by the Court Justices, but for the present reference is made to page 12 of this issue.
Regardless of the fact that most church members are opposed to the Court decision, the Standard holds that it is proper, fair, and correct. Of all the people on earth who should rejoice over it, we believe Baptists should be happiest. More than any other decision rendered by the Highest Court during the last 50 years, this one is in keeping with the age-old Baptist contention that church and state must be kept separate. As so significantly pointed out by Justice Black, himself a Baptist, it was Baptists who from the colonial days protested the control of religion by the state while at the same time they fought to keep the state free from the control of sectarian groups.
We have before us the text of opinions by several members of the Court, and as we interpret them it has made no effort to oppose religion in school life. It has simply ruled that prescribed and controlled religion shall not be forced upon students by the power of government. The prayer, "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country," is all right. It could not hurt anyone. Neither could it be very helpful to Christians. It is not a Christian prayer because it is not offered in Christ's name. It is not necessarily a prayer fitting any religious group because to many of them God may mean something instead of someone. It is not a prayer at all. It is a recitation of a perfunctory sentence that was composed by the regents of New York State, and it was so framed that it would not be offensive to anyone. Anything that doesn't offend anyone could not be very helpful to everyone. If the wording were changed it would likely be sectarian in some degree. As it was offered it was not religious to any great degree. So why contend for it at all? To us such prayers border on hypocrisy, but this is not the ground for the Court decision.
The decision was made on the basis of the fact that the prayer was composed by a government-supported institution, ordered by the school board which is a government agency, and, therefore, contrary to the Government's Constitution. Since there was only one dissenting vote among the Judges present, we must accept their judgment as being based on their honest opinions rather than personal desires. Those of us who are not experts in constitutional law are not really qualified to pass Judgment on that angle of the decision.