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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with the fact that schoolchildren and others are officially encouraged to express love for our country by reciting historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence which contain references to the Deity or by singing officially espoused anthems which include the composer's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.
The layman's opinion, therefore, must be based on whether or not he believed the decision to be moral, fair, American, and best for the preservation and progress of the Nation. From these angles we have no doubt that the Court was right, and we say that as one who believes very much in prayer. Nevertheless, real prayer is personal. We have never believed that even the Lord's Prayer should be recited in unison. In fact, if it is a recitation then it is not much of a prayer.
If it may be legal to have volunteer prayers in the public schools, then may many of them be offered every day; but there is no place in American life for prayers formulated by the Government.
Some branch of government already controls just about everything we do. It is encouraging to know that American citizens will, at least, be left free to compose their own prayers and offer them when and where they choose.
[6. The Alabama Baptist, Alabama Baptist Convention, Leon Macon, editor, July 5, 1962
SCHOOL PRAYER DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL
The New York Board of Regents had ruled that the following prayer be uttered at the start of each schoolday:
“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country."
Any pupils who did not want to join in the prayer could abstain.
A group of Unitarians, Jews, a member of the Society for Ethical Culture, and one nonbeliever had appealed to the Supreme Court the New York State court's ruling upholding the prayer. The Supreme Court declared that the Constitution is violated by any legal requirement that a public school teacher lead her pupils in prayer.
Those Supreme Court Judges voting in favor of this decision declared that it is not part of the business of the government to compose official prayers for any group of American people to recite as part of a religious program carried on by the government. It was argued that any such legislation which requires students to recite a prayer, although undenominational in nature, violates the first amendment to the Constitution. It was argued that: “When the power, prestige, and financial support of the government is placed behind a particular religious belief, indirect coercive pressure is placed on religious minorities."
We should all thank the Supreme Court for this decision simply because such a required prayer is using the Government to establish religion in our public schools. This is in direct conflict with the first amendment which guarantees that there shall be no laws passed regarding establishment of religions.
We do not believe this ruling forbids prayer in any of our public institutions, the House or the Senate in Washington, or in any of our schools, however it could lead to this. It is a ruling against the State's requiring a legal prayer to be prayed in our schools and if this stood, then the Federal Government could come in and take over all of our public schools and enforce its will on what is now a State and local prerogative.
For the sake of the separation of church and state, we should all be very happy that this legal requirement for a religious observance in public schools was not upheld.
If we ever have government-established prayers, this will be used as a precedent by those who want the government to support their schools with tax moneys. Any emotional reaction against this Supreme Court decision is ill founded for there is by far more danger to the separation of church and state than any other consideration.
We have our churches in which to teach our children their religious practices and beliefs, and trying to use some State agency to accomplish what the church ought to be doing is a confession that one's particular church program is ineffective. This is a warning for all of our churches to become vitally concerned about all the people and, therefore, to strengthen their program of reaching people for Christ and spreading the gospel among all the people.
There are forces today which would like to see our public schools forced by law to practice religious rites. (Prayer is a religious rite.) This would give them procedure to appeal to in order to get government moneys for their parochial schools. This ruling will do more than anything else to thwart the efforts of those who believe their religious schools should be supported by tax moneys.
17. The Baptist Record, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, Joe T. Odle, editor, July 5,
1962 (circulation, 92,500)]
PRAYER IN THE SCHOOLROOM The Supreme Court of the United States has declared unconstitutional the regents' prayer prepared by the regents of the State of New York to be read or recited in the public schools.
The greatest furor raised by any Supreme Court decision in recent years has been raging across the Nation since the day the ruling was read.
The hue and cry that is being raised actually is based not on what the decision says, but on the principles related to it.
Christian leaders all across the Nation are speaking, with far more of them opposing the decision than favoring it. Editorials have appeared in many of the country's leading newspapers with the majority of the writers decrying the Court's action. Congressional leaders are already planning legislative action.
The decision itself relates to a much smaller matter than the principles being discussed. The Court simply has said that officials of government agencies may not prepare a prayer to be read or used in the schools. If we understand the decision, it has not outlawed praying or the repeating of the Lord's Prayer in the schoolroom. Neither has the Court said that there may not be other types of religious exercise.
This does not mean that later decisions may not rule out all types of prayer, Bible reading, or other religious exercise. The present ruling suggests that such decisions may be forthcoming in the near future. Justice Douglas, in his written statement on the ruling, implied such.
Most believers in the absolute separation of church and state would agree that school officials cannot legally prepare a prayer to be imposed upon the pupils. This seems to be the basis of the Court's decision.
The principle involved, however, is the cause for the alarm in the hearts of many people. Many see in this decision a move toward taking religion completely out of our culture, and the vast majority of Americans do not want that. There are many Americans who practice their religion very little, and to whom church relationships mean nothing, who still believe that God must be recognized in all areas of life. They fear that this step by the Supreme Court is the first move toward taking recognition of God out of the schools and national life. They can see other minority groups objecting to reading the Bible in the schools, using the name of God in the pledge to the flag, having the word's "In God We Trust" on our coins and currency, using chaplains in the Armed Forces, and many other practices which recognize spiritual values and our dependence upon an Almighty God.
There is full recognition of the rights of minorities, who do not want such worship, but many believe that in the case of the prayer in the school, the rights of the minority were not trespassed, since no child was required to participate. After all, the majority has some rights, too, and we are convinced that most of them do not want the public schools to be completely secularized, with all spiritual values removed.
Perhaps the decision of the Court was inevitable and right. At the same time the questions raised may help clarify the whole issue.
The majority of Americans want the Constitution upheld and the separation of church and state held inviolable.
However, they do not want the recognition of God and worship of Him to be completely removed from the relationships of life. As the National Observer said editorially, “Surely most of us would recognize and resist any effort to establish a state church. But it is something quite different to demand that religion be kept out of the classroom. That is an argument of absurdity, an affront to our whole heritage, and a threat to religious freedom itself."
Perhaps out of the present discussion can come the means of preserving both of these great cherished principles. [8. The Baptist Messenger, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, Jack L. Gritz, editor,
July 5, 1962 (circulation, 78,000)]
PRAYER IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Most Baptists will approve the U.S. Supreme Court's recent 6 to 1 decision against the New York State regents' official prayer for use in the public schools there. They will do so because this prayer written by a government group and made an official part of the activity of a government agency was a clear violation of the "establishment of religion" clause of the first amendment to the Federal Constitution for which our Baptist forefathers earnestly contended in the beginning of our national history.
On the other hand, most Baptists are shocked at the mistaken assumption by many newspapermen and educators that the Court's decision is somehow a ruling against any prayer (and possibly against Bible reading) in the public schools. This emphatically is not the case.
The Court decides only the technical legal issues which are presented to it and upon which it agrees to render a decision. The point at issue in this case was the recitation by all students (unless individually excused) of a prayer which had been prepared for them and was a part of the daily opening exercises. The prayer was adopted in 1951 by the board of regents which administers education in New York State for use in local schools as desired. It was intended to be nonsectarian and read as follows: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependency upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”
In writing the majority opinion Justice Hugo L. Black declared, “By using its public school system to encourage recitation of the regents' prayer the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the establishment clause (of the first amendment).” He continued, “It has been argued that to apply the Constitution in such a way as to prohibit State laws respecting an establishment of religious services in public schools is to indicate a hostility toward religion or toward prayer. *** Nothing, of course, could be more wrong. 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."
He said, “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 the government.” He added that this was the sort of thing which "caused many early colonists to leave England and seek religious freedom in America.” He cited the Book of Common Prayer prepared under the direction of the English Parliament and approved by it in 1549.
Significantly the protesting parents who had carried the case all the way from New Hyde Park, N.Y., to the Supreme Court included two Jews, one Unitarian, one member of the Society for Ethical Culture, and one agnostic.
The Supreme Court's decision in no way affects the Oklahoma State law which provides for the reading of the Bible without comment and the practice of having prayers in classrooms and assemblies.
The Court has yet to rule on prayer in general and noncompulsory Bible read. ing in the public schools, and cases involving these questions are now before it in appeals from Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Court has now adjourned until October. Perhaps these decisions will be reached and announced in the fall or sometime early next year.
In Pennsylvania a three-judge Federal district court in Philadelphia has twice held that the reading of Bible verses without comment is a violation of the separation of church and state provision of the Constitution and this decision has been appealed by the attorney general of the State. The Pennsylvania law states: "At least 10 verses from the Holy Bible shall be read without comment at the opening of each public school on each school day. Any child shall be exempted from such Bible reading upon the written request of his parents or guardian.” The suit against this practice was brought originally by the Unitarian parents of three children in Abington Township school district of Montgomery County (a suburb of Philadelphia). In asking for a Supreme Court ruling the State attorney general and attorneys for the school board said, “It is of paramount importance to the parents and teachers of this Nation to have the Supreme Court determine whether the Constitution requires that none of the students shall be allowed to listen to the Bible being read without comment simply because one family, whose children do not attend the reading, do not want others to listen.”
The Maryland case arose when a woman who is a nonbeliever and who is raising her son to be a nonbeliever objected to the practice of daily Bible reading and recitation of the Lord's Prayer in a Baltimore school. The court of appeals in the State upheld the practices. But her attorneys have appealed to the Nation's highest tribunal.
With the lower courts so divided and the country so confused, definitive rulings by the Supreme Court seem imperative.