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1. Let us be careful not to read into the decision more than the Supreme Court wrote into it. In so doing, evangelicals might endanger the continuation of religious observances in our public life by giving aid and comfort to the secularistic influences who wish the Court had said more than it did. In its next term the Court will hear cases regarding Bible reading and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public schools and its decision on these matters will clarify the issue.
2. Let us be alert to attempts to establish secularism as a negative form of religion on the narrow basis of the Court's ruling. The American Civil Liberties Union has asked its local chapters to challenge such practices as Christmas and Hanukkah observances, Bible reading, recitation of the Lord's Prayer, and baccalaureate services. The Court did not even remotely approach a decision on these practices.
3. Let us encourage school officials in our communities to continue their voluntary nonsectarian religious observances, a privilege which is left open to them by the important footnote in the decision.
4. Let us watch with prayerful interest the decisions which will come from the next term of the Supreme Court regarding Bible reading and the Lord's Prayer in public schools. If these rulings do not satisfactorily clarify the confusion created by the current decision, then we should give our support to remedial legislation which will preserve the rights of the majority to maintain our great and vital school tradition.
5. Let each of us make a personal commitment to the religious principles which are the foundation of our country and let this commitment be translated into practice and conduct. Without this dedication to moral and spiritual values, neither legislation nor court rulings can save America.
STATEMENT OF CLARENCE MITCHELL, DIRECTOR OF THE
WASHINGTON BUREAU, NAACP At its national convention in Atlanta, Ga., July 2–8, 1962, the NAACP unanimously passed a resolution on the controversy which arose following the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Engel v. Vitale. The delegates were fully aware of the fact that this decision stated, “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.” The resolution passed by the convention states that, “This decision adheres to the principle of separation of church and state which the NAACP has always supported. It does not prevent the teaching of religion or of the tenets of any religious faith by individuals; governmental participation therein is prohibited.”
The NAACP convention is always heavily attended by outstanding clergymen of many faiths. Many of the lay delegates are church officials in their respective faiths. They do not take the subject of religion lightly. It is the opinion of many who attended the convention that a substantial part of the attack on the U.S. Supreme Court, because of the prayer decision, is in reality a part of the continuing effort to discredit our highest Court because of the 1954 school desegregation decision.
It is impossible to see how the brief and inconclusive hearings held on the various resolutions can provide the basis for any type of constructive approach to congressional action. Indeed, if it is the intention of such sponsors of such resolutions to correct some kind of problem, their energies might well be directed in other channels because this decision does not present a national or even local problem.
As one who attended some of the sessions of the hearings, I would like to state for the record that most of those who seemed eager to attack the Supreme Court because of the decision in Engel v. Vitale apparently had not read the Court's opinion. It was also clear that the line of questioning pursued by Senator Philip A. Hart, of Michigan, developed answers which showed that the objectives of those protesting the decision were by no means well defined. In one instance, a member of the Protestant faith was hard put to give an explanation of how he would react if children were required to recite the Ave Maria.
We strongly urge that the committee abandon any consideration of attempts to change the Constitution or to nullify the Court's decision in this field of American life. We also state unequivocally that the hearings held during the 2c session of the 87th Congress were so restricted and inconclusive that they could not possibly furnish a basis for any intelligent congressional action in the S8th Congress.
TESTIMONY OF Rev. THOMAS J. VAN LOON, CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMITTEE ON
RELIGION AND PUBLIC EDUCATION OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
My name is Thomas J. Van Loon. I am an ordained minister of the Methodist Church, employed by the General Board of Education of the Methodist Church in offices at 1001 19th Avenue South, in Nashville, Tenn. My residence is in Nashville. I do not here represent the Methodist Church, but speak for the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., by appointment of Council President J. Irwin Miller. This is in response to an invitation from the Committee on the Judiciary, sent to the council office at 475 Riverside Drive in New York on July 19, 1962, to present testimony on positions of the council relevant to amendments to the Constitution of the United States being proposed in reaction to the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Engel v. Vitale, commonly described as the New York State Regents' Prayer
First scheduled for hearings the following week, and postponed by the committee, this testimony is now filed for the record.
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. is a voluntary association of some 31 Protestant and Orthodox communions, with other denominations being related to some parts of the program such as missions or education. The National Council of Churches is governed by a triennial assembly of the elected representatives of the constituent churches. When that assembly is not in session, a delegated general board has responsibility. Only the general assembly and the general board are authorized to speak for the council. Neither the general assembly nor the general board has been in session since the date of the Court decision, so official comment has not been possible. However, during the 10 years of its history, the National Council of Churches has made official pronouncements of principle on matters relevant to consideration of Senate Concurrent Resolution 81, Senate Joint Resolutions 204 to 207, inclusive, and Senate Resolution 356, sent me by your staff. These related statements I report. One should hear them with the understanding that they come from delegated church officials, but by our rules do not bind any constituent denomination or any member of them.
I report for your information also relevant statements from member denominations, as received in our New York office to date.
(1) The National Council of Churches believes in prayer and in worship as immortant elements in the life of faith.
“Man can know the will of God as it has been revealed and can also enter into communion with Him. Since God rules in history, and since man is His child created in His likeness, prayer is powerfully relevant. Constant prayer by all who put their trust in the righteousness of God can release the greatest power conceivable in this world. To neglect prayer is to forego the most important source of light, strength, and composure.
“The churches must encourage and help the people to engage in common and individual worship and to participate in the sacraments more frequently, regularly, and earnestly. Worship enables individuals and groups to view the present scene in the light of God's eternal being and purpose. It provides spiritual undergirding, brings to people troubled by fears and doubts a fresh and clear consciousness of God in whom they may find strength and composure." 1
(2) The National Council of Churches has expressed its support of public schools, the latest such statement being dated February 22, 1961, which says in part:
"We reaffirm our support of the public school system as an indispensable means of providing educational opportunity for all children: we urge provision of increased resources for the operation and improvement of the public schools (3) The National Council of Churches has expressed a concern for how public schools deal with religion. When approving the establishment of a department of religion and public education in its division of Christian education, the General Board of the National Council of Churches said:
* * * " 2
1 "The National Council of Churches Views Its Task in Christian Life and Work." a pronouncement adopted by the General Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., May 16, 1951, 9.1-2 and 5.
2 "Public Funds for Public Schools," a pronouncement adopted by the general board Feb. 22, 1961, 13.4-2.
"In the services to be provided by this proposed department, every attempt will be made to strengthen the distinctive and appropriate educational roles of the home, the church, and the State school respectively. The home and the church must assume their primary roles as teachers of religion. That is, to them is committed the responsibility of nurturing and instructing children in religious commitment, faith, and discipleship. No agency of the State, including the school, can safely or wisely be entrusted with this task.”
"At the same time, we believe that the public school has a responsibility with respect to the religious foundations of our national culture. It can declare, as the State itself declares, that the Nation subsists under the governance of God and that it is not normally autonomous. It can acknowledge, furthermore, that human ethical and moral values have their ground and sanction in God.
“The school can do much in teaching about religion, in adequately affirming that religion has been and is an essential factor in our cultural heritage.
"The school can bear witness to its appreciation of the place of religion by the personal characters of those who teach in its classrooms.
"No impairment of the separation of church and state is involved in the assumption of such responsibilities. Nor is the basic responsibility of the home and church in any way lessened. It is as committed persons gather in churches and as they build homes that the most effective agencies of religious education are made possible. Moreover, as committed persons teach in or administer the public schools, they can exert religious influence by their character and behavior.
"The committee believes that as the people of our American communities seek to enrich the life of their schools and as they seek to explore the rightful and proper place of religion therein, they will be wise to avoid reliance upon legislative compulsion. Religious testimony and religious exercise especially are significant to the extent that they are free and voluntary.
"We assume that these preliminary observations with regard to religion and public education will be supplanted in time by more comprehensive statements with regard to church-state relationships which will provide a general council policy within which the department of religion and public education and all other units of the council will operate."
The department of religion and public education just mentioned provides staff for the committee on religion and public education which I serve as chairman. I am one of two appointees to this committee from the Methodist Board of Education, the other being a layman from Mount Vernon, Ill., Dr. J. Lester Buford. This committee is 1 of more than 70 program units in the national council. Our committee has at present 110 members whose appointments were made by 21 denominations, 23 State councils of churches, and 10 units of the National Council of Churches having related concerns. The committee on religion and public education is at work in the development of "more comprehensive statements with regard to church-state relationships which will provide a general council policy."
Our committee sponsored a national conference on religion and public education in St. Louis in 1955; there with the assistance of representative persons from within and without the constituency of the council our committee sought to define the issues. For your information, I file a report of that conference, a reprint from the International Journal of Religious Education of February 1956, attached as exhibit I. The problems thus defined were carried to the attention of our constituent denominations and councils, and discussed in those circles for a 3-year period.
Then our committee on religion and public education began to try to answer the questions as to how public schools should be expected to deal with religion. As one step in this process, a study document entitled “Relation of Religion and Public Education" was returned to our constituents for further study over another 3-year period. For your information, I file with you a copy of that study document, calling to your attention the explanations on front and back covers which show the process by which we seek to reach consensus. This is a reprint from the International Journal of Religious Education, April 1960, pages 21-36, inclusive, and is labeled "Exhibit II.” I hope my explanation has made clear that our committee paper does not speak officially for
3 "Church-State Issues in Religion and Public Education," a pronouncement adopted by the general board May 20, 1953, 13.1-1.
the National Council of Churches, but hopefully it serves as a step in the process toward such a statement of position from the council.
Our committee on religion and public education is now engaged in reviewing the reactions received from members of our constituency and from others in the American community whose advice we sought. From that process, we hope in the near future to report to our parent bodies our recommendations as to what church people should expect from public schools in dealing with religion, and on how our church efforts in religious education may be coordinated with the education given in public schools to many of our youthful members.
The National Council of Churches on June 8 of this year authorized a national study conference on church and state to be held February 4-7, 1964, in which problems of the public schools in dealing with religion will be considered in the context of total church-state relations.
(4) The National Council of Churches has expressed its support of the principle of separation of church and state, and its concern for religious freedom and other freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, the amendment of which is contemplated by the current legislative proposals. The statements which seem to me most pertinent follow :
“Separation of church and state was established as a distinguishing characteristic principle of American democracy by our Constitution. It has become an essential feature of the structure of our society, the cornerstone of our religious liberty, which is the most basic of all liberties. Guaranteeing equality of rights to the various sects, with discrimination against none, it has been an essential feature of our way of life, which has been blest with tolerance and unity. Our people, though gathered from many nations, with different cultural and religious backgrounds, have been singularly free from religious strife.
“As Christians believing in the freedom of conscience and as Americans believing in our national traditions, we are deeply and resolutely committed to the separation of church and state as a sound principle amply verified by our experience.
“In the Christian view, man is a creature of infinite worth in the sight of God, endowed with God-given rights. All men, and Christians in particular, are responsible to God and to their fellow men for the defense of these rights. Among these rights are freedom of peaceable association and assembly and freedom of speech. From the Christian point of view, neither the state nor any group of men within the state can presume to grant or deny these fundamental rights.
“The freedom of one is the freedom of all."
“Religious liberty and indeed religious faith are basic both historically and philosophically to all our liberties.
“The National Council of Churches holds the first clause of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States to mean that church and state shall be separate and independent as institutions, but to imply neither that the state is indifferent to religious interests nor that the church is indifferent to civic and political issues.
“The National Council of Churches defends the rights and liberties of cultural, racial, and religious minorities. The insecurity of one menaces the security of all. Christians must be especially sensitive to the oppression of minorities.
“Religious and civil liberties are interdependent and therefore indivisible.
"The National Council of Churches urges the churches because of their concern for all human welfare to resist every threat to freedom.
“The general board approves the position * * * with reference to the Draft International Covenant of Human Rights as follows:
"To support the principle of parental right (a) in choosing for their children schools other than those established by the state; and (6) in determining the religious education of their children as generally elaborated in article 28, paragraphs 8 and 9, of the Draft International Convenant of Human Rights.
4 “A Brief on Diplomatic Representation at the Vatican,” a pronouncement adopted by the general board, Jan. 17, 1951, 29.1-1.
5 "Freedom of Association,” a pronouncement adopted by the general board Dec. 5, 1957, 17.3-1.
8 “Religious and Civil Liberties in the United States of America,” a pronouncement adopted by the general board Oct. 5, 1955, 17.2-1.
“The general board also approves the following policy:
"That all the substantive provisions contained in article 13 be retained as essential in the final draft of the International Covenant on Human Rights.
"NOTE.-Article 13 of the Draft International Covenant of Human Rights in its present form reads as follows:
“ '1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right shall include freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
" 2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are pursuant to law and are reasonable and necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedom of others.'"7
A phrase in one proposed amendment seems to make relevant a pronouncement of the National Council of Churches on the proposal under consideration in 1959 for a “Christian amendment" to the Constitution of the United States. The explanation is so much a part of that pronouncement that I found it difficult to abstract, so I attach its full text as exhibit III.
(5) Within a context of consideration of efforts for peace between nations, the National Council of Churches has spoken on Federal-State relations, as follows:
"Leadership toward world community requires justice in our own national community. Full respect for the United States rests upon our own respect for the dignity and equality of all our citizens before the law.
“All social structures, being human, have built-in weaknesses. Although authoritarian forms may display outward solidarity, societies which are morally based and self-disciplining are capable of an inward strength of purpose denied to other forms. The Christian is concerned primarily with the moral force and vision requisite to generate such inward strength.
"One essential element is vigorous action to secure equality of opportunity for all citizens in education, in civic and economic rights, and before the law. The national interest in building a community of freedom is paramount to local action inconsistent with that interest. States rights are entitled to respect in our federal system. Nevertheless, States owe a duty to respect the human rights which the federal system guarantees and the international standards affirm.
"These moral requirements have a direct and practical application to U.S. foreign policy. New states and emergent peoples are engaged in a struggle for social stability, without undue loss of human diversity and freedom. The traditions of the United States classically embody this universal aspiration. But our present national patterns of behavior profoundly affect our international power of persuasion.
“We, the people of the United States, owe it to ourselves to grasp the opportunity—perhaps the last we shall be accorded in foreseeable history-to help lead mankind toward a universal dominion of justice and peace.” ?
(6) The National Council of Churches believes that the churches have a responsibility for religious education. That has been mentioned in No. 3 above, and finds expression elsewhere:
"Spiritual security can be achieved only by strengthening the Nation's faith in God. The responsibility for deepening this faith rests with the churches.
“For all ages, but especially for children and youth, the churches face a challenge to provide Christian education. This involves not only nurture in the content of the Christian faith but also an understanding of the requirements of that faith for all areas of conduct and human relationships. Individuals must be helped to become wise, loyal, and eager disciples of Christ."
(7) On July 5, 1962, the National Council of Churches through the office of its General Secretary Roy G. Ross made inquiry of its constituent denominations as to whether any action had been taken during the past 10 years by the plenary bodies of the denominations "which would deal with issues of religion and public education or which have implications of such issues." I attach the most relevant portions of the responses received to this date by the New York office.
7 "Approval of Article 13 of the Draft International Covenant of Human Rights," adopted by the general board Nov. 28, 1951, 17.1-1.
8 "Toward a Family of Nations Under God; Agenda of Action for Peace," a pronouncement adopted by the general board June 2, 1960, 25.2-3.
9 "Investigative Procedures in the Congress of the United States," a pronouncement adopted by the general board Mar. 17, 1954, 14.1-2.
10 "The National Council of Churches Views Its Task in Christian Life and Work," a pronouncement adopted by the general board May 16, 1951, 9.1-6.