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[26. The Ohio Baptist Messenger, State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, Lynn M. Davis,
Jr., editor, July 26, 1962 (circulation, 6,000)]
THE COURT ON PRAYER
"* * * I am happy to be here as the representative of the tribunal which is charged with the duty of maintaining, through the decision of controversies, these constitutional guarantees." These words were delivered March 4, 1939, before both Houses of Congress on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the 1st Congress. Little did Charles Evans Hughes, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and author of these words, realize that on June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court of the United States would render a decision that was destined to electrify the citizenry of this Nation.
The Board of Education of Union Free School District No. 9, New Hyde Park, N.Y., acting in its official capacity under State law, directed the school district's principal to cause a prayer to be said aloud by each class in the presence of a teacher at the beginning of each schoolday.
What the Supreme Court really did in nullifying the New York State law was to abolish inequality. Equality before God requires freedom of individual expression. Free expression does not come with the recitation of a prayer which has been written and committed to memory.
Especially is this true if the same prayer is offered each day, at the same time and by the same people. Winston Churchill penned some very wise words that can be applied to almost anything. Maybe they should be applied to prayer. You judge. "Constant attention wears the active mind, blots out our powers, and leaves a blank behind.” Moreover, there is little, if any, freedom of expression afforded an individual who participates in a prayer that has been directed by a governmental body. Such was the case in New York.
Baptists in particular set forth the principle that prayer should be the free expression of the individual to God. The words of James Montgomery help clear the air as to the meaning of prayer:
“Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed,
That trembles in the breast." While smoke still rises from the embers kindled by the Court's decision to ban government directed prayer, criticism has turned into understanding. Most critics, while not in agreement with the Court's line of reasoning, have sufficiently acquainted themselves with the case to realize that the Court did not ban prayer, as such, from public schools. Rather, it said that no governmental body could write or direct the prayers of individual school children.
In the opinion of many observers, a door was opened which would allow complete eradication of religion from the framework of our official governmental bodies. It is no wonder then that persons who remember American history would be disturbed. Our Government and way of life was based on JudeoChristian philosophy; however, in defense of the Constitution, the Supreme Court could do no other than state that this same Government, based on its JudeoChristian philosophy, could not direct the religious affairs of men. This then places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of churches but primarily in the laps of parents.
While the decision of the highest Court in the land banned official prayer, it shows no "hostility toward religion or toward prayer." These were the words of Justice Black who delivered the opinion of the Court. He followed with, “The history of man is inseparable from the history of religion. And perhaps it is not too much to say that since the beginning of that history many people have devoutly believed that 'More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.' It was doubtless largely due to men who believed this that there grew up a sentiment that caused men to leave the cross-currents of officially established state religions and religious persecution in Europe and come to this country 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. (Perhaps the best example of the sort of men who came to this country for precisely that reason is Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, who has been described as 'the truest Christian amongst many who sincerely desired to be Christian.') And there were men of this same faith in the power of prayer who led the fight for adoption of our Constitution and also for our Bill of Rights
with the very guarantees of religious freedom that forbid the sort of governmental activity which New York has attempted here. These men knew that the first amendment, which tried to put an end to governmental control of religion and of prayer, was not written to destroy either. They knew rather that it was written to quiet well-justified fears which nearly all of them felt arising out of an awareness that governments of the past had shackled men's tongues to make them speak only the religious thoughts that government wanted them to speak and to pray only to the God that government wanted them to pray to. 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."
To return to the words of Charles Evans Hughes, “In thus providing the judicial establishment, and in equipping and sustaining it, you have made possible the effective functioning of the department of government which is designed to safeguard with judicial impartiality and independenec the interests of liberty."
The danger to our Nation is not to be found in this one ruling. Let the ruling stand. Let individual and free prayer abound.
[27. Statement by Frank H. Woyke, executive secretary, North American Baptist General
Conference, in Denominational News Letter, August 1962]
Much excitement has been stirred by the recent Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional the prayer adopted by the State Board of Regents of New York for use in all public schools in the State.
A storm of protest greeted the decision. Many religious leaders, including such men as Cardinal Spellman and Billy Graham, quickly denounced the action. There was a widespread impression that this decision proved the Supreme Court to be against prayer, antireligious and in favor of the secularization of American life. What are the facts ?
1. The Supreme Court did not declare opposition to prayer. It simply said that prayer “composed by governmental officials as a part of a government program to further religious beliefs” is unconstitutional. The Court held that the regents' prayer in New York was an “official” prayer and thus violated the rights of citizens under the 1st and 14th amendments.
2. The Court did not eliminate “God” from our public life. It simply stated that the establishment of religion has a tendency to destroy government and to degrade religion. The Court also declared that governmentally established religions and religious persecution go hand in hand. Is this not what all those who prize religious freedom have been saying all along?
[28. Statement by W. Hubert Porter, associate general secretary, American Baptist
Convention, August 4, 1962]
The decision is thoroughly consistent with the historic stand of the American Baptist Convention relative to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Almost every year since the beginning of the convention the delegates from the churches have declared their forthright and unequivocal witness on behalf of this principle. These resolutions, usually adopted unanimously, are consistent with the religious freedom emphasis which has marked the life of the Baptist people throughout their history. In light of this long tradition of Baptists in general and its consistent and repeated affirmation by the American Baptist Convention in particular, I would be derelict in my duty if I did not strongly defend the action of the Supreme Court.
If these affirmations mean anything at all they mean at the very least that, to use the language of the Supreme Court, “It is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as part of a religious program carried on by government." The Court spoke to a specific question in which the issue was crystal clear. This particular question is not open to qualified or equivocal answers. It can and must be answered “Yes” or “No." Either the government has authority to write prayers and prescribe their use or it does not have such authority. If we believe such
action on the part of the Government is a violation of the first amendment we are on the side of the Court. If we believe it is a legitimate function of government to author and enforce the use of particular prayers under penalty of law, we are against the Supreme Court.
Those who glibly assume that governmentally composed and governmentally imposed prayers can fulfill in any substantial way the need for spiritual nurture ought to reflect on the sad experience of many European countries where, in contrast to the American system, the public school curriculums involve not only formal religious exercises but also theological indoctrination. The comparative results indicate a vast reservoir of experience in favor of the thesis that religion is most vital where it is most voluntary. The anxiety with which some have responded to the Supreme Court decision would be diminished considerably if everyone remembered that evangelism is the task not of the state but of the church and the home, and that the only substantial basis for religious affiliation is the voluntary choice of the person who is convinced of the meaning and importance of spiritual commitment.
The alarming aspect of the current discussion is the clear implication that many Americans are perfectly willing to let the homes and the churches default on their religious obligations to such a degree that the spiritual nurture of our children is made to depend on a minimal prayer that is written and prescribed by government. The decision of the Court will perform a significant service for the spiritual welfare of the American people if it alerts our churches and homes to the fact that they cannot delegate to the Government a task so sacred as the indoctrination of young lives in the knowledge of God as manifested in Jesus Christ.
The decision of the Court was the only one that could have been made in faithfulness to the Constitution. It will serve as a new bulwark for the historic church-state separation doctrine which has been subject to serious erosion in modern times. It will protect this great principle which is central to our American heritage and which has made possible a measure of freedom not previously achieved under any other system.
It has been the custom of most Americans to give lipservice to the first amendment. The Supreme Court decision now calls us to a time of testing when we must demonstrate whether or not we mean what we say. We believe that upon due reflection the American people will pass the test and will firmly reject all efforts to chip away the first amendment, the keystone in the arch of our liberties.
I am convinced that the Supreme Court has spoken faithfully to the meaning of the Constitution. It is incumbent upon us as a people to keep faith with that Constitution in our own lives. [29. Resolution adopted by the Minnesota Convention of American Baptist Churches, in
annual session at Duluth, September 21-23, 1962)
SUPREME COURT AND PRAYER
It is with gratitude that we support the recent ruling of the Supreme Court on prayer as an effort to protect our religious freedom and the separation of church and state. We direct the attention of our people to the fact that the Supreme Court ruling did not rule against prayer, or other religious expression in the public schools, but did rule that the government as such-local, State, or National-should not prepare, prescribe, or officially sanction prayers and other religious materials for use in the public schools, and did so on the clear grounds that this is not a legitimate function of government.
[30. Resolution adopted by the Pennsylvania Baptist Convention, in annual session at
Uniontown, October 18, 1962]
We affirm our belief in prayer as the voluntary communication of the person with God. Thus prayer cannot properly be equated with the recitation of words addressed to Deity. We therefore view with disfavor the prescribing of prayer by legislation, since such procedure involves the promotion of religion by the state, obscures or destroys the voluntary aspect of prayer, and engages in an experiment with sacred freedoms that risks unforeseen and perilous consequences. We therefore endorse the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States involving the prayer that the New York State Board of Regents formu
lated for use in public schools, understanding that this decision places no restriction on the voluntary practice of prayer in connection with any public function or any semireligious activities in public schools. We recommend increased attention to the importance of prayer in deepening our spiritual lives and in challenging us in our social awareness.
(31. Resolution adopted by the Baptist General Convention of Oregon-Washington, in
annual session at Wenatchee, October 24-26, 1962]
RESOLUTION Further, be it resolved that while viewing with concern the increasing secularization of our public school systems and the decreasing emphasis on moral and spiritual values, we also recognize that there are religious groups seeking to break down the wall between church and state; therefore we commend the Supreme Court of the Nation for its recent decision to ban from the school socalled official prayers; that we endeavor to increase the spiritual activities of our homes and our churches; and that we refuse as a group of cooperative churches to seek special monetary benefits from the local, State, or Federal Government and in any way would renounce any intention of advancing the work of the Lord at the expense of the public treasury.
[32. Resolution adopted by the Norfolk Baptist Association, in annual session at Norfolk,
Va., October 26, 1962]
Whereas we hold fast to the concept of religion as a voluntary exercise of man in his voluntary response to his Maker; and
Whereas we have historically affirmed that the created dignity of man is lessened in any atmosphere of compulsion or coercion regarding his freedom to engage in, or refrain from engaging in, such voluntary response; and
Whereas we believe the role of government, insofar as its relationship to religious exercises is concerned, is to provide a permissive atmosphere, devoid of compulsion, coercion, or financial support, where in freemen may freely and personally exercise such voluntariness as they personnaly choose ;
We, therefore, as messengers to this meeting of the Norfolk Baptist Association, on October 26, 1962, do express our gratitude to the Supreme Court of these United States for their recent decision which reaffirmed the guarantee of religious freedom as embodied in the first amendment to the Constitution; and
Further, we reaffirm the historic position of Virginia Baptists as expressed by messengers to the 1925 meeting of the Dover Association; and
Further, we call upon our brethren to bolster and enhance these freedoms by giving greater diligence to the exercise of prayer and the study of the Holy Scriptures in the home and in the church, recognizing these as the true domains for the furtherance of the religious life of the individual.
133. Recommendation of the Christian Life Commission, approved by the Baptist General
Convention of Texas, in annual session at Fort Worth, October 30-November 1, 19621
SUPREME COURT DECISION ON OFFICIAL PRAYER
In the past prayers composed by the Government have been dismissed by Americans as an affront to conscience. But in the emotional context of the historic Supreme Court decision last June such a prayer drew considerable support. As a result, a major new church-state controversy was created. Although the specific issue was narrow, the ensuing debate has ranged far and wide.
The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for an agency of the Government to coerce religious expression. It held that for a public school to require the reading of a prayer as part of the standard school procedure constitutes coercion, even when dissenting pupils are permitted to abstain from the reading. The decision was based on the fact that prayer composed of government officials and ordered by a government agency is contrary to the Constitution.
The Court did not outlaw prayer. It made prayer free from political control. It expressly stated that its action is not hostile toward religion or prayer, but rather is for the protection of religion and for the guarantee of its free exercise. If the Court is wrong, then must we not concede that government officials have the authority to compose prayers and enforce their repetition?
The Court's decision is in harmony with the fundamentals of democracy. It takes religion away from no man and forces it upon none. It declares again that under our form of government a man is free to worship as he sees fit, or not to worship at all. Citizenship is in no way dependent upon his affirmation of certain religious beliefs, or his refusal to make such an affirmation.
We urge Baptists to get the facts before they attempt to evaluate any court decision.
We urge Baptists to accept heartily the responsibility of religious worship and training of children. The answer to an ever-increasing secularism is not to use the compulsory attendance law to force the presence of children at religious worship but rather to call our churches and families to rededication to God.
We urge Baptists to support the principle of separation of church and state. This principle has been greatly strengthened by the Supreme Court's decision. The action of the Court is an act of liberation. It frees schoolchildren from what was, in effect, a forced repetition of prayer; prayer ought to be voluntary, not forced. It frees the public school from an observance much more likely to be divisive than unifying. And most important of all, it may free religion from an essentially perilous sort of secular support.
STATEMENT ON PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT RE RELIGION AND THE
PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN BEHALF OF THE CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS
This statement is submitted in behalf of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, numbering 835 Reform Rabbis in the United States, the oldest and largest Rabbinical body in the country. Time and again through the years, we have re affirmed our support of church-state separation as a principle which has enabled democracy in America to flourish, and permitted the free development of religion and its institutions. We see in the Supreme Court decision in the case of Engel v. Vitale a historic reaffirmation of the intent of the first amendment to the Constitution and its logical application to the realities of a pluralistic society. We, therefore, must record our opposition to any constitutional amendment or resolution which would in any way alter this intent or distort its application.
Our Founding Fathers, deeply religious men, believed in what Thomas Jefferson called "a wall of separation" between church and state. Indeed, as rector of the University of Virginia, a State-supported institution, Jefferson refused to permit Sunday religious services to be conducted on university property. Dr. Leonard W. Levy, dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences, and Earl Warner, professor of constitutional history at Brandeis University and fellow of Harvard University's Center for the Study of the History of Liberty, writes, "The early Presidents were deeply religious men, but they opposed any government aid, however beneficient and equitable, to religion. They reasoned that religion should remain a voluntary and private matter, the exclusive concern of the individual and his Creator. Any 'alliance or coalition between government and religion,' advised the aged Madison, 'cannot be too carefully guarded against.' He argued for a 'perfect separation,' believing that 'religion and government will exist in greater purity, without than with the aid of government.'"
The Supreme Court decision is in no wise a ruling against prayer. Indeed, it is based on profound insight into the true nature of prayer as communion between man and God, springing from the individual's personal faith and nurtured by a historic tradition. A religious ritual imposed by governmental authorities, and so denatured as to offend no one, becomes meaningless. As Mr. Justice Black pointed out in the majority decision, “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.”
Public school sponsorship of religious exercises actually establishes a new religion which might be termed "civic religion," in which public officials assume the role of theologians, teachers become ministers, and the class a congregation. To regard such exercises as important is to do irreparable harm to the historic faiths which hold that empty formulas, recited by rote, can neither substitute for nor supplement the soul's aspiration to God and dedication to the performance of His will.