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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."
The issue decided by the Court is not whether America shall be a God-fearing Nation or not but whether religion shall be propagated by Government edict.
The decree strikes down a threatened partial establishment of religion. It in no way prohibits "the free exercise thereof."
Americans are still free to pray-in the home, in the church-even in the schools, on a spontaneous basis.
Religious minorities are free from the necessity of having to dissent from the religion of the majority imposed by official decree. Remember that Baptists arose as a religious minority in England and the United States. Who more than they should champion the rights of minorities to full religious freedom rather than mere toleration?
This Supreme Court decision was in the mainstream, not only of American political tradition, but of Baptist philosophy. The principles that it reaffirms are the same that Baptists have proclaimed for centuries through the writings of John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, John Bunyan, Roger Williams, and others.
The root of difficulty over this decision is a lingering belief, held even by some present-day Baptists, that religion depends on State sanction and support for its propagation. The old theocratic idea dies hard. Can we not accept the fact of history that union of church and state tends, in the words of the Court, "to destroy government and to degrade religion"? Can we not accept the teaching of Scripture that religious faith is a private affair, that the individual is responsible to God alone for his eternal destiny?
[17. The Baptist Courier, South Carolina Baptist Convention, S. H. Jones, editor, July 12, 1962 (circulation, 88,819)]
THE "SCHOOL PRAYER" DECISION
The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on the case of a prayer used in the public schools of New York has been discussed widely with many differing opinions being expressed. We are releasing (see pp. 6 and 9) a report from Washington and a statement by Dr. C. Emanuel Carlson that we believe to be helpful.
It is easy for people to form opinions hastily, and it is dangerous to do so. Just now, we are not ready to comment beyond a brief statement. We believe prayer to be such a sacred and personal matter that it is not to be regulated in any way by government. As it now appears, the decision dealt with only one question, the legality of a prayer composed officially to be used in public schools. We do not know how widely the decision against such prayers may be applied; but it is evident that the principle of separation of church and state is endangered by any official action by a school board prescribing a particular prayer to be used. The content of the prayer would not be the issue.
Perhaps we may have more to say on this matter later in the context of an article on religion in the public schools.
[18. Baptist Press news report, July 13, 1962]
HOBBS PRAISES BAN ON GOVERNMENT PRAYERS
OKLAHOMA CITY.-The Southern Baptist Convention president has endorsed the Supreme Court rule banning "official" prayer in public schools.
"The Supreme Court of the United States in its decision has struck one of the most powerful blows in our lifetime, maybe since the Constitution was adopted, for the freedom of religion in our Nation," he declared. "And we should be eternally grateful to them," he added.
Herschel H. Hobbs, pastor, First Baptist Church here, expressed his views in a sermon, "What Did the Supreme Court Mean?"
The Court in Engel v. Vitale ruled that the so-called regents' prayer in New York State required for recitation in public schools violated the establishment clause of the first amendment.
Hobbs explained to his congregation that the newspapers "did not fully convey the intent of this highest legal tribunal in our Nation." After studying carefully a reliable analysis of the Court's decision and extensive quotes from the opin
ions, the convention president concluded that the Court acted "for the protection of religion and to guarantee its free exercise."
"What appeared to be a tragedy is now clear to me to be one of the greatest blessings that could come to us who believe in the absolute separation of church and state," he said.
Hobbs pointed out the issue in the case. It was, "Is it legal or illegal for a governmental agency to compose a prayer and require that that prayer be said in a public schoolroom?" He said that other problems, such as Bible reading and voluntary prayers, were not under consideration. These will be considered in later decisions.
The historic Baptist role in such matters was explained by the Oklahoma City pastor. "Our Baptist people have always fought for the absolute separation of church and state. *** Our insistence on religious liberty is not for Baptists alone, but for all religions," he said.
"If this disturbance that has come throughout our country regarding this decision does not do anything else, it ought to point up to us the fact that prayer is a vital, personal experience," Hobbs declared.
He concluded, "This decision means that you and I cannot throw the responsibility for moral and spiritual training of our children upon the school or even upon the church. It is a responsibility that belongs primarily in the home. This decision means that you and I should give more thought to what prayer really is.”
[19. Baptist Press news report, July 13, 1962]
BAPTIST LEADERS FAVOR COURT PRAYER RULING
CHICAGO. Thirteen out of twenty-three prominent national religious leaders signing a statement approving the Supreme Court decision against official prayers in public schools are Baptists.
The statement prepared by the Christian Century, an undenominational weekly, declares that the Court's ruling "protects the integrity of the religious conscience and the proper function of religious and governmental institutions." In an editorial the Christian Century said that earlier condemnations of the Court ruling were "not representative of sober Protestant thought." The danger of hasty judgments such as were expressed by some, the editorial pointed out, is that "church leaders are tempted to speak without thought, to appraise without study."
"The unhurried views of Protestant leaders" were sought by the Christian Century. The result was wide approval of the action taken by the Supreme Court.
The statement signed by the 23 leaders is as follows:
"We are in agreement with the Supreme Court that '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.'
"We call upon the American people to study this decision prayerfully and without political emotion. We believe the Court's ruling against officially written and officially prescribed prayers protects the integrity of the religious conscience and the proper function of religious and governmental institutions." The Baptists who signed the statement are:
Theodore F. Adams, pastor, First Baptist Church, Richmond, Va., past president, Baptist World Alliance; Herschel H. Hobbs, pastor, First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, president, Southern Baptist Convention; Edwin H. Tuller, general secretary, American Baptist Convention, Valley Forge, Pa.;
C. Emanuel Carlson, executive director, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.; Edwin T. Dahlberg, pastor, Delmar Baptist Church, St. Louis, former president, National Council of Churches; Frank E. Johnston, associate general secretary, American Baptist Convention, Valley Forge, Pa.; Samuel Miller, dean, Harvard University Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass.; Kyle Haselden, managing editor, the Christian Century, Chicago; Carlyle Marney, pastor, Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C.; W. Hubert Porter, associate general secretary, American Baptist Convention, Valley Forge, Pa.; J. H. Jackson, president, National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.; Frank H. Woyke, executive secretary, North American Baptist General Conference; and W. Barry Garrett, associate director, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.
Others who signed the statement are:
Hampton Adams, pastor, Park Avenue Christian Church (Disciples), New York City; John S. Bonnell, pastor, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City; Aubrey N. Brown, Jr., editor, Presbyterian Outlook, Richmond, Va.; Truman B. Douglas, executive vice president, Board of Homeland Ministries, United Church of Christ, New York City;
Harold E. Fey, editor, the Christian Century, Chicago; A. Raymond Grant, bishop, Oregon Methodist area, Portland; Dwight E. Loder, president, Garrett Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill.;
Malvin H. Lundeen, secretary, Lutheran Church in America, Minneapolis; Edward O. Miller, rector, St. George's Episcopal Church, New York City; and Richard H. Raines, bishop, Indiana Methodist area, Indianapolis.
[20. Statement approved by executive board, Missouri Baptist Convention, July 17, 1962]
We commend the majority opinion of the Supreme Court which ruled that no State can impose a prescribed prayer upon public schools.
[21. Statement by S. A. Whitlow, executive secretary, Arkansas Baptist State Convention, July 19, 1962]
OUT OF THE FUROR
"Government in this country, be it State or Federal, is without power to prescribe by law any particular form of prayer which is to be used as an official prayer in carrying on any program of governmentally sponsored religious activity."
So stated the U.S. Supreme Court in its June 25 decision handed down in connection with the prayer required by the board of regents to be said in every public school in the State of New York as an opening exercise. The Court, in a 6-to-1 decision, thus barred "official" prayers in public schools. The Court has not barred voluntary prayers on the part of teachers or pupils in the schoolrooms but it has simply stated that prayers required by any branch of the government are unconstitutional.
Justice Black, in delivering the majority opinion of 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." The exercise of religion thus should be kept in the area of the voluntary and not be a part nor parcel of any activity required by the government.
The real benefits of prayer are not to be found in reciting or reading some prayer prescribed by the government, however good the prayer may be within itself. Prayer, to be worth very much, should be voluntary, sincere, and prompted from within.
James, the disciple of our Lord, may have pointed to the prime defect in prayer in the lives of many of us when he said, "Ye have not, because ye ask not ***"
It would be wonderful if this furor over the Supreme Court's decision should lead us to better understanding of the genuine essence of prayer, and then to practice it.
[22. The Word and Way, Missouri Baptist Convention, H. H. McGinty, editor, July 19, 1962 (circulation, 67,448)]
THE SUPREME COURT AND PRAYER
With the possible exception of its ruling on segregation, nothing that the U.S. Supreme Court has done lately has created such a furor as its recent decision declaring that the recitation of a certain prayer in the public schools of New York State is unconstitutional. The Court ruled (6 to 1) that the so-called regents' prayer violates the establishment clause of the first amendment.
The State board of regents in New York is a governmental agency created by the State constitution. 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 obligated to conduct this opening exercise, but the pupils participated or refused to participate voluntarily.
The prayer itself appears to be harmless enough. It is contained in the one simple sentence, "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country." But the Supreme Court declared it to be unconstitutional.
On what basis did the Court reach this decision?
Not because the Court is antireligious, as some charge. 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 Judges said.
Why then did the Court render this ruling?
Certainly not because the prayer itself seems to be harmful. It is really not harmful and, perhaps, not too helpful. It is stripped of the mention of practically all elements which would be objectionable. It is not sectarian. Christians would say it is not even Christian, because it does not mention the name of Christ. It could be sincerely recited by a follower of Confucius, Buddha, or Mohammed.
Upon what basis, then, did the Court make its findings? Mainly on two factors which have been overlooked by many people.
First, this was a government-prescribed prayer. The Court faced the issue-Shall government agencies write and direct the prayers of the American people? The responsibilities of government are many, but the writing of prayers is not one of them. If the formulating of the prayers of the American people should fall into the hands of the politicians, one of the most precious American heritages would be endangered. Justice Hugo L. Black in rendering the decision said: "It is not 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 the government."
Second, the recitation of the prayer was compulsory. The fact that it was denominationally neutral or that it was voluntary for the students to recite, the Court said, did not matter. The teacher was required to recite it in the schoolroom.
If one thinks that prayer is the sincere outreach of a human soul to his God, "required prayer" becomes an absurdity. The American concept of prayer is not prayer by legislation, but the people praying in freedom under the guidance of the spirit of God.
The announcement of the Court's decision was the signal for an outburst of indignation. Some declared that the guilty members of the Court should be impeached. Others asked, "Will they declare it unconstitutional to use the name of God in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag?" Some suggested that it will be necessary to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency. Others said, "Will they try to stop the U.S. Senate and House from opening their sessions with prayer?" Some said that the President of the United States could no longer put his hand on the Bible when he takes the oath of office. Others interpreted the vote as a vote against God. Said Georgia's Methodist Bishop John Owen Smith portentiously: "It is like taking a star and stripe off the flag."
The Congress also got into the act. Forty-two bills have been presented in the House to override the Court's prayer ruling. Three resolutions proposing similar amendments sponsored by 13 Senators have been offered in the Senate. Then the members of the clergy began to speak. Catholic prelates were particularly outspoken in their condemnation of the decision. On the other hand, Protestant leaders, one by one, took their place on the side of the Court.
In a meeting in Chicago on July 8 the leaders of nine Protestant denominations hailed the Court's decision, which forbids any Government official from writing or prescribing prayers for use in public schools. The 19 clergymen and lay leaders, in a statement released by Harold E. Fey, editor of The Christian Century, a nondenominational weekly published in Chicago, said: "The Court's decision protects the integrity of the religious conscience and the proper function of religious and governmental institutions."
Baptist leaders who have voiced their opinions have been almost unanimous in approving the Court's action. None has stated his point of view better than the president of the convention, Dr. H. H. Hobbs. Preaching to his congregation at the First Church, Oklahoma City, Sunday, July 8, he said: "The Supreme Court of the United States in its decision has struck one of the most powerful blows in our lifetime, maybe since the Constitution was adopted, for the freedom of
religion in our Nation. We should be eternally grateful to them * * *. What appeared to be a tragedy is now clear to me to be one of the greatest blessings that could come to those of us who believe in the absolute separation of church and state," he said.
This need not be interpreted as a setback to prayer. It is inconceivable that an individual could not pray in a schoolroom if he so desired or that a group could not do so. Silent prayers in the schoolroom would not be in danger of any adverse Court ruling. But a governmentally produced prayer forced upon the children in the schoolroom the Court has declared to be un-American. We believe the Court was right and justified in its decision.
The upsurge of fury will subside, and when the tumult and the shouting have died the New York Prayer decision may well be hailed as a landmark in a neverending search to strike a proper balance between church and state.
[23. Baptist New Mexican, Baptist Convention of New Mexico, Horace F. Burns, editor, July 19, 1962 (circulation, 17,000)]
PRAYER IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Asked to make a statement for a broadcast following the Supreme Court's decision on prayer in the public schools, the editor released the following:
"In America we believe that all people are entitled to complete religious freedom. It is not a simple thing to work out the rules by which we operate where matters of religion are concerned. To make a law which favors any one religious faith is to discriminate against all the others.
"I do not believe that any person has a right to force his religious faith or practices upon another. Our public schools are essentially secular.
"At the same time we will do well to remember that our Nation was founded by those who had deep faith in God. The phrase upon our coins, 'In God We Trust,' and the faith which prompted it, have made us great.
"Complete religious freedom for all is not a reality if some are compelled to participate in or attend sessions in which their religious convictions are violated."
As any Baptist knows the editor is speaking only for himself on this point, or any other. He has neither the right, the desire, nor the wisdom to speak for all Baptists. This is a good time for us to think about what is happening in our Nation. The Bible is rapidly being outlawed in many areas of public life.
When our Nation was established those who charted her course were people who had endured much. George Washington and those who were at Valley Forge with him were well aware of the existence and power of God, and their need of Him. The Founding Fathers had endured enough hardship to be fully aware that it was God who really overruled the forces of the enemy and the elements, and enabled them to establish a nation known to them as "the land of the free, and the home of the brave."
It was natural then that in public life provision should be made for recognition of God and His providence. Prayer and recognition of the Bible became as much a part of the American way of life as taxes and political speeches. But some things have changed.
In our desire to safeguard the religious freedom of some who cannot believe in our God, we have tossed aside, one by one, some important things. A graphic view of some of these changes may be seen by placing, side by side, the school textbooks of today, and those used 50 years ago. No longer do we find scripture verses and proverbs. Instead we have created a situation in which those who deny the Bible may speak freely, while those who believe the Bible are denied opportunity to present it. Herein lies a great danger.
It is interesting to read "that prayer" which was ruled unconstitutional. Nowhere does it mention the name of Jesus. It was written skillfully, in such a way that it was not expected to be offensive to Jews, Moslems, or other groups. The whole idea of a group, any group, prescribing a prayer to be read or recited, as an "approved" prayer, is ridiculous. Is God obligated to hear a prayer just because it was written to be offensive to no one and officially approved?
The prayer life of any person is an individual matter. Laws may be made concerning public recitations or pronouncements, but they cannot be made to regulate the communication between the believer in Christ, and the Heavenly Father.