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[24. Baptist Press feature, July 20, 1962]


(By C. Emanuel Carlson, executive director, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs)

In recent days scores of Senators and Congressmen have made proposals for tampering in one way or another with the first amendment to the Constitution. All this uncertainty about our American free society has come about because the Supreme Court handed down a ruling which said that State boards of education violate the Constitution if they try to write prayers for the pupils and impose or promote them by public authority.

The American Constitution has served the Nation well, and probably no item in it has done more to make the United States the world's leading free nation than the first amendment. This is the basic, abiding public policy which has prevented politicians and churchmen from utilizing the powers of Government for the regimentation of the souls of the American people. This freedom is vastly more important than the freedom to spend all our money as we may please. Give to Caesar the coin that bears his image, but give to God the soul that bears God's image, was the force of Christ's statement on this comparison.


Why have our leaders begun to want to tamper with our basic freedom? What has gone wrong? Why are the hearts of men failing in their freedom under God and therefore seeking the intervention of Government agencies in the prayer lives of the people?

The human mind is always complex. Yet a number of maladies can be identified, maladies for which remedies can be arranged. The cause of freedom is not defeated. Our time is a time for alertness and action, not for panic or alarmism.

The confusions, however, are of such magnitude that many organizations and movements that do favor freedom are now seeking words for doubletalk. Civil liberties organizations, religious denominations, interdenominational agencies, economic associations, et al., that one would expect to speak out for the spiritual freedom of men under God, are silenced or hampered by the diversities of their members' interests. Perhaps it is "for such a time as this" that the Baptist movement has been given its remarkable growth and strength?


Misinformation is probably one of the major reasons for the current proposals. The Supreme Court's decision has been badly reported in many areas, and some politicians apparently have adjusted themselves to the misinformation rather than assume responsibility to correct the reports.

At this point Baptists who have taken time to be well informed should be able to give much help. Visits with the editors of local papers, letters to the editor's "mailbag," conversations at work, sermons in churches, discussions at ministers' meetings, adoption and release of statements in churches, associations, State conventions, and national boards-all of these and many more will help get the truth to people. A respect for honest truth is a Christian witness and a service to our fellow men.


Concern about communism is probably also contributing to the present confusion. Some seem to think of "prayer" as a kind of vehicle or tool by means of which to transmit our heritage and our moral values. This is true only if prayer is sincere and voluntary and if our ways are upright before God. "Required prayers" produce revolt rather than appreciation. Those countries which now have strong Communist movements have in the past had much regimentation in prayer. Anticlericalism, church disinterest, and even atheism develop in situations where religion seeks to perpetuate itself by coercion.

In this matter Baptists should also be able to serve this generation well. A sermon on the nature of prayer, another on the nature of worship, would be helpful in every church. Other messages could search the Scriptures to discern how God chooses to deal with people. The use of government powers for gaining responses to the love of God will be scarce, and the Master's deliberate rejection

of such tools for His kingdom can be meaningful for all. The issue before us goes to the very basis of the kind of response that God desires of sinful men, and merits thoughtful, soul-searching meditation of the Bible in all branches of a church's program. Check your facts and interpretations; doublecheck your

motivations. Then send a copy of your sermon to your Congressman.


Popular information and spiritual insight, however, must find civic expression. Most Congressmen and Senators know the facts, and see at least some of the values. However, they are "representatives" in a nation that has "representative" government. Let us give them the chance to represent us by knowing how we think and feel about the first amendment. That amendment protects us against laws with reference to establishment of religion, and it also guards our free exercise of religion. Your Congressman would be glad to know two things in this matter: first, that you hope they will not tamper with the first amendment to the Constitution, and second, that you are strongly averse to all attempts to coerce or regiment people into prayer.

We have a stewardship unto God of our influence in this generation. This stewardship must take priority over our political party interests, over our different economic and regional interests, and over the fears and fads that are our distinctive climate. Freedom is best guarded at its deepest level. Baptists can be of help, in the name of Christ.

[25. Biblical Recorder, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, J. Marse Grant, editor, July 21, 1962 (circulation, 72,400)]

AIRING OF CHURCH AND STATE PRINCIPLES IN UNITED STATES IS HEALTHY Perhaps it was just as well that the Recorder did not publish the week after the Supreme Court made its historic decision banning "official" prayers from the Nation's public schools. The temptation would have been present to have rushed into print with something without the advantage of adequate time in which to carefully study all aspects of the decision. Even now, almost a month after the decision, we are not quite sure about its far-reaching implications, but there are some conclusions on which most Baptists can agree, we believe.

Dr. C. Emanuel Carlson, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and his associate, W. Barry Garrett, have worked diligently to inform Baptists on the decision. They have gone behind the headlines and have come up with solid information that is needed to arrive at an intelligent conclusion.

"The decision involved prayer and freedom," Dr. Carlson pointed out, "and Baptists believe in both." He says that the decision does not exercise a restraint on prayer but a restraint on government involvement in prayer. "The practice of one's religion on one's own volition is something altogether different from the use of official prayers to advance the acceptance of a religious idea or practice," he continued. "Alongside of the 'no establishment' clause is the provision for 'no restraint on the free exercise' of one's religion. If aggressive opposition to this right arises, the Supreme Court will need to make additional and perhaps more difficult decisions,” Dr. Carlson concluded.

Despite the variance of views on the decision, Baptists will agree that continued public discussion of the principle of separation of church and state is healthy. How long has it been since this principle has been so much in the spotlight? Isn't it better to have this public airing than to forget that this principle exists and is guaranteed by the first amendment?

Another thing Baptists can agree on-the home and the church are the institutions established for teaching children about God and Christ. As President Kennedy said, "We can pray a good deal more at home and attend our churches with fidelity and emphasize the true meaning of prayer in the lives of our children." To put it another way, let's be sure there is prayer with our children in the home before we are tempted to lament its absence in the schoolroom. Such prayer will be spontaneous and from the heart instead of being written by the government as was the case in New York.

This is not the last decision the court will make on this cherished principle. Let's be alert, well-informed citizens and thus be prepared to analyze for ourselves the true meaning of such decisions.

[26. The Ohio Baptist Messenger, State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, Lynn M. Davis, Jr., editor, July 26, 1962 (circulation, 6,000)]


“*** 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,

The motion of a hidden fire

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]


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

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