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religious beliefs of the majority, and would work a discrimination against those who were excused. The exclusion of a pupil under such circumstances puts him in a class by himself; it subjects him to a religious stigma; and all because of his religious belief” (Herold v. Parish Board of School Directors, 136 La. 1034, 1050 (1915)).
We think the U.S. Supreme Court was right in its opinion in Engel v. Vitale that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion means 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."
One of the objections to prayer as part of public school exercises, notwithstanding provision for nonparticipation 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 nonparticipating children are inevitably set apart as nonconformists and subjected to social and psychological pressure to modify their beliefs and conduct. The choices open to the nonparticipating child are all bad: he may ask to be excused and hence label himself as a nonconformist 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 clearly religious, are responsible for imposing the dilemma upon children who have been committed to their care solely for secular education.
Prayer is an integral feature of each of the major Western religious. As such, it has a separate and distinct meaning for the adherents of each set and denomination of such religions. This is true with respect to the forms and content of prayer; it is also true with respect to the demeanor required of the supplicant while he is praying. To deeply religious people, these differences go to the root and essence of their religious convictions.
Jews believe, for example, that faith in God should be taught in the context of historical associations accompanied by religious rites and symbols that are related to Judaism. We want Jewish children to know God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as the God who freed the Jews from slavery. We do not want our children to think of God only in abstract terms, nor even in “nondenominational” or Christian terms. Since, for Jewish children, education concerning God must take place within the context of Jewish associations and experiences, it would be impossible, even if it were permissible, to teach faith in such a God in the public schools. And to teach about God or to pray to God in the very undefined and nondescript sense urged by those who would amend the Constitution to permit nonsectarian prayers in the public schools, is to make it a meaningless concept. For Jews, God takes on meaning only when defined or in association with clear moral challenges or in relation to specific human associations.
Thus, a nonsectarian prayer may not be objectionable to a number of sects and denominations of Christians, perhaps even to a majority; but it would be a form of prayer not known or accepted in the homes, synagogues, and churches of many children who attend the public schools of our land. A confusion would thus be created in the minds of many children who would be exposed to one form or religious experience at home, synagogue, or church and to a different form of religious exercise in the public schools. There is no form of prayer which has been universally accepted as to its form and content by all Western religions.
For these reasons the American Jewish Committee has consistently favored strict separation of church and state, and participated in many of the U.S. Supreme Court cases as amicus curiae when church-state issues were involved. We, therefore, would be opposed to measures which would weaken religious freedom or nonestablishment by changing the first amendment's guarantee of those interrelated and essential liberties of a free people.
Religion has flourished in this country, although religious indoctrination has not been subsidized from the Public Treasury. And the public schools themselves have served as a great unifying force in American life welcoming young people of every creed, emphasizing the common heritage of all, and serving as training grounds for healthful community living. The public schools have performed an indispensable function, and any attempt to use the public schools to encourage religious literacy or commitment will tend to exacerbate the present public school crisis and create religious conflicts, competition, bitterness, and hostility.
We would like to submit to the Judiciary Committee, as an appendix to our statement, a compilation of editorial comment from a number of outstanding daily newspapers and from selected religious publications and organizational spokesmen which support the Supreme Court decision of June 25, 1962, on the regents' prayer. Respectfully submitted.
A. M. SONNABEND, President. (NOTE.-The appendix referred to is on file with the committee.)
STATEMENT OF THE AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS ON PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO
THE U.S. CONSTITUTION CONCERNING PRAYERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The American Jewish Congress was organized “* * * to help secure and maintain equality of opportunity * * * safeguard the civil, political, economic, and religious rights of Jews everywhere * * * [and] * * * to help preserve, maintain, and extend the democratic way of life."
We regard the principle of religious liberty and separation of church and state as fundamental to American democracy. We deem any breach in the wall separating church and state as jeopardizing the political and religious freedoms which that wall was intended to protect. We believe, further, that our free nonsectarian public school system is one of the most precious products of our American democracy and a unique contribution to modern civilization. We, therefore, feel impelled to express our opposition whenever attempts are made to compromise its integrity. It is for that reason that we submit this statement opposing pending proposals to limit the scope of the constitutional guarantees concerning religion.
The evils that James Madison foresaw from impairment of the principle of separation in his "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment” 1 have been proved inevitable when the impairment occurs within the public educational system. The "animosities and jealousies” which accompanied the introduction of the Virginia assessment bill? are ever present when religious groups seek to employ the public school system to further their sectarian ends. The divisiveness which inevitably results when sectarianism enters the public school affects all American children, but is particularly harmful to children of minority faiths.
Were it not that some, either through misunderstanding or ill will, equate opposition to religion within the public school system with opposition to religion, we would hardly need state that our position is in no way motivated by hostility to religious instruction. As an organization dedicated to Jewish survival, we naturally place Jewish religious education in the forefront of our activities. In Jewish history and tradition, religious instruction has always been regarded a sacred responsibility of the Jewish community. Today, the overwhelming majority of Jewish children in America voluntarily attend afterhour and Sunday
1 Annexed as appendix to Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing, 330 U.S. 1, at p. 63 (1947).
3 The Supreme Court pointed out in McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 211212 that: "To hold that a state cannot, consistently, with the 1st and 14th amendments utilize its public school system to aid any or all religious faiths or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines and ideals does not, as counsel urge, manifest a governmental hostility to religion or religious teachings. A manifestation of such hostility would be at war with our national tradition as embodied in the first amendment's guarantee of the free exercise of religion. For the first amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. * * *"
Mr. Justice Frankfurter, in his concurring opinion, was similarly careful to point out that: "The secular public school did not imply indifference to the basic role of religion in the life of the people, nor rejection of religious education as a means of fostering it. The claims of religion were not minimized by refusing to make the public schools agencies for their assertion. * * *"
In Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, the Court 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."
schools conducted by local Jewish communities where they receive their religious education wholly independent of the public school system. We believe, however, that the responsibility for religious education may not and should not be shared with the public school system, and that the support of government in this field is neither desirable nor necessary. We believe with Jefferson that "it is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” 5 Position of the American Jewish Congress on the pending proposals
On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that prayer recitation in the public schools, sanctioned and sponsored by public school authorities, was unconstitutional (Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421). Since that date, 49 proposed constitutional amendments have been submitted to Congress on the question of prayers in the public schools. Some of these proposed amendments intend to do no more than overrule Engel v. Vitale. Others go much further in abridging the guarantees of the first amendment, as envisioned by its framers and as traditionally understood by American citizens.
The American Jewish Congress believes that complete separation of church and state is best for both state and religion. We are in accord with the definition of the establishment clause given by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Everson case (330 U.S. 1 at pp. 15–16), again in the McCollum case (333 U.S. 203, at pp. 210-211), in McGowan v. Maryland (366 U.S. 420 at 443), and in Torcaso V. Watkins (367 U.S. 488, at 493), in which the Court said:
"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the first amendment means at least this: Neither a State nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a State nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.''
The American Jewish Congress is thus opposed to all of the amendments before this committee believing them ultimately harmful to religion and to the fundamental rights of Americans. We believe that the decision of the Supreme Court in Engel v. Vitale was required not only by existing constitutional law in the area of church and state, but also by the cause of religious liberty and the welfare of all people in a pluralistic society. Analysis of the pending bills
The 49 bills before this committee would amend the Constitution so as to permit prayer recitation in the public schools. They all seek to overcome the ruling in Engel v. Vitale holding unconstitutional the voluntary recitation of a brief, allegedly nonsectarian, prayer in the public schools. Rather than describe each bill, we shall comment on a few that represent the various patterns into which the bills fall.
At least one bill, House Joint Resolution 814, misses the point of the decision in Engel v. Vitale entirely. This bill, proposed by Congressman McVey, reads: "In due acknowledgment and gratitude to Almighty God for His blessings on our Nation, the right of the people to pray in all public and private places shall not be violated." Nothing in Engel v. Vitale denies or impairs that right. Indeed, the whole point of the free exercise clause of the first amendment is to protect the individual's right to pray as and where he will. Apparently to guard against misconstruction, this bill provides, in its second section, that: "This amendment shall not be interpreted so as to result in the establishment of any particular ecclesiastical organization, or in the abridgment of the rights of religious freedom, or freedom of speech and press, or of peaceful assemblage."
A type of bill which would do much more than overrule the Engle case is illustrated by one proposed by Congressman Becker (H.J. Res. 752). This bill states that “prayers may be offered in the course of any program in any public school or other public place in the United States." For the reasons we have stated in our introduction, we oppose all religious practices in the public schools. But, as to this particular bill, it seems obvious that by ignoring both the question of compulsion and the question of nonsectarianism the proposal presents the gravest threat to freedom of religion.
4 At least three out of every four Jewish children receive religious instruction at some time or another. American Jewish Year Book (1958) 124-125 ; Hurwich, “Religious Education and the Release Time Plan," Jewish Education (1941) 103-107.
5 Notes on Virginia, in Blau, "Cornerstones of Religious Freedom," 79 (1949).
A variant of this bill, containing precisely the same defects is that proposed by Congressman Taylor (H.J. Res. 755). The bill reads: "Notwithstanding the first or fourteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, prayers may be offered and the Bible read as part of the program of any public school in the United States.” This bill covers devotional Bible reading, a practice not dealt with directly in Engel v. Vitale, but one which would seem to be included in Engel's broad ban on state-sponsored religious activities in the public schools.
These two bills raise a problem evident in all of the proposed amendments. None of the bills seem intended as substitutes for the first amendment, with its no-establishment clause and its guarantee of religious liberty. The proposed amendments seem rather to be in the nature of a gloss. That is, they say in effect: “We are in sympathy with the protections of the first amendment but wish to make plain that (according to, for example, H.J. Res. 752) compulsory and even sectarian prayer in the public schools does not constitute an establishment of religion and does not impinge on anyone's free exercise of religion. The issue here is whether a constitution should have internal consistency."
A number of the bills give lipservice to the concept that freedom of religion requires absence of governmental compulsion as well as to the concept that government may not engage in clearly sectarian practices. Thus, House Joint Resolution 753, submitted by Congressman Johnson, attempts to exclude sectarianism. It provides that: "Nothing in any article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States shall be deemed to prohibit the offering of any nonsectarian prayer or any other nonsectarian recognition of God in connection with any activity in any public school or other public place.” This bill, of course, ignores the question of compulsion.
On the other hand, House Joint Resolution 764, proposed by Congressman Waggonner, recognizes the problem of compulsion but completely ignores the question of sectarianism. This bill reads: "Nothing contained in any previous portion of the Constitution shall be construed to deny the right to recite the Lord's Prayer in the classroom of any public school, provided such recitation or presence during the recitation is voluntary.” The Lord's Prayer is clearly a Christian prayer and is thus sectarian as to any other religion. Further there is division within the Christian faiths over the contents of the prayer. (We might note here that, while Engel does not mention the Lord's Prayer, its recitation seems clearly barred under that decision.)
Bills like Senate Concurrent Resolution 81, introduced by Senator Robertson (for himself, and for Senators Talmadge, Stennis, Thurmond, Byrd of Virginia, and Byrd of West Virginia) attempt to deal with both compulsion and sectarianism. The operative part of this resolution would amend the Constitution to provide “* * * the designation by a public school official of a nonsectarian prayer for use, as a part of the activities of a public school, does not constitute an establishment of religion or an infringement of the doctrines of separation of church and state in violation of the Constitution of the United States, if participation in the offering of that prayer by individual students is not made compulsory.”
Similarly, House Joint Resolution 768, sponsored by Congressman Sikes, provides : "Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the authority administering any school, school system, or educational institution supported in whole or in part from any public funds from providing for the voluntary participation by the students thereof in regularly scheduled periods of nonsectarian prayer."
We believe, however, that even these bills do not provide adequate protection for religious freedom. As we shall show in the following sections of this statement, prayers cannot be nonsectarian and participation in school exercises by schoolchildren cannot be freed of the element of compulsion.
6 We pass over the long preamble to this resolution which presents the sponsors' views of the role of religion in American history and the threat to American institutions posed by the forces of atheism. It should, however, be noted that we reject the implication of this preamble that the interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court in the Engel case is supported only by atheists. As this committee knows from the statements submitted to it, the decision is supported, and the pending amendments opposed, by many Individuals and organizations representing varying religious faiths.
There are still other bills before this committee which, while ostensibly dealing with the problem of prayer recitation, seem basically focused on entirely different matters. These bills are apparently designed to overrule not only the decision in Engel v. Vitale but also a number of other recent decisions of the Supreme Court.
Thus, Senate Joint Resolution 207, proposed by Senator Eastland (for himself, and Senators Johnston, McClellan, and Talmadge) reads:
"Nothing in this Constitution shall prohibit the offering of prayers or the reading of the Bible as part of the program of any public school or other public place in the United States.
“The right of each State to decide on the basis of its own public policy questions of decency and morality and to enact legislation with respect thereto, shall not be abridged.”
It seems clear that enactment of this proposed amendment would wipe out all constitutional restraints on the States, whether in the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or the later amendments. In particular, it could be construed as nullifying the decisions of the Supreme Court holding that the mandate of equality contained in the 14th amendment prohibits State-imposed racial segregation. The question of sectarianism
Those of the pending bills that authorize the recitation of a nonsectarian prayer assume that it is possible to draft a prayer that would be equally acceptable to all groups, or at least to all religious groups. We believe that that is not so and that recognition of that fact underlies the twin concepts of freedom of religion and separation of church and state.
The Supreme Court decision in the Engel case dealt with a prayer, recommended by the New York State Board of Regents, which read as follows: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.” The board of regents regarded this short prayer as nonsectarian. Indeed, it is probably safe to say that, if any prayer could be nonsectarian, this one would be. Yet, in fact, neither this nor any prayer can be regarded as equally acceptable to all religious groups.
Thus, the acknowledgement of dependence upon Almighty God and a prayer to Him for His blessings necessarily constitute official assertion of the existence of a personal God who can and will respond to prayer and grant the blessings prayed for. This official assertion of a belief in the existence of God prefers some religions over others, specifically theistic religions over those which are nontheistic.
It is frequently assumed that all religions are founded upon a belief in the existence of a personal God, but this assumption is erroneous. So great a religion as Buddhism with over 150 million adherents throughout the world including the United States (World Almanac, 1962, p. 719) is not founded upon a belief in the existence of God (Rhys-Davis, "Buddhism," in "Religious Systems of the World,” p. 142; Spielberg, "Living Religions of the World,” p. 247; Alabaster, "The Wheel of the Law," p. XXVII).
Even among those who believe in the existence of a personal God, it is difficult to say that any given prayer is truly nonsectarian. Indeed, no prayer which is publicly and collectively recited can be called nonsectarian.
Experience has shown that sooner or later so-called nondenominational religious exercises acquire sectarian additions and deviations. Moreover, what is nondenominational to the majority frequently is sectarian to the minority. Many Protestant public school authorities have designated as nondenominational the King James version of the Bible, which is unacceptable to Catholics, and the Lord's Prayer, which is unacceptable to Jews.
Children of different religions 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, the Friends, for example, all public oral prayer is theologically objectionable.
The daily reading of the Bible, which some of the pending bills would specifically authorize, presents a number of insoluble questions. No version of the Bible can be called nonsectarian. Any reading from the New Testament is viewed as sectarian by Jews. As to the Old Testament, the King James version is unacceptable to Catholics; the Douay version is unacceptable to Protestants.