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We would also call attention to the fact that prayer is inherently sectarian. This fact has been ignored in the discussion of so-called nonsectarian prayer. Prayer is inherently and unavoidably sectarian, because every prayer presupposes a particular diety to be addressed.
Leaving the rights and opinions of atheists and agnostics entirely aside, it is a fact that there is no uniformly accepted concept of God or a commonly held view of a Supreme Being. Men and women who profess belief in a God or Supreme Being range in their views from those who believe in a literal, supernatural person to those who conceive the divine power as a nonpersonal creative principle, as a universal process, or as a purely abstract ideal. Thus, there is no one idea of God which is acceptable to all believers; there are many differing, even contradictory ideas of God. Some religions offer prayers; others oppose formal prayer and choose meditation or contemplation without petition.
The sectarian and partisan character of petitionary prayer can be seen in the fact that petition implies the existence of a particular kind of God; namely, a deity who is personal in character, conscious of human beings and subject to the influence of their entreaties. One would not logically offer a prayer of petition to an impersonal, creative principle.
The regent's prayer of the State of New York is an example of petitionary prayer; so is the Lord's Prayer, although according to the New Testament, Jesus expressly prohibited its use, or the use of any other prayer, except in private worship.
Thus, prayer in the ordinary sense favors one particular form of God belief over other forms. It favors those sects and schools of religion which teach such an interpretation of deity over those which hold to other interpretations. Therefore, in the most literal sense, prayer is inevitably and unavoidably a sectarian activity. Some sects would seek direct divine intervention in the natural order, as in prayer for rain or protection from disease. Other sects would regard such uses of prayer as superstitious.
As a matter of simple justice, constitutional issues aside, the Government and its agencies ought not to engage in activities which favor one form of religious belief over another. A sectarian opinion is still sectarian even though a combination of sects may share it. Beliefs held by Christian sects generally, but not by Jews and Buddhists, are clearly sectarian. Beliefs held by fundamentalist Protestants, but not by modernists or liberals, are sectarian, insofar as they uphold one religious tendency against another.
In summary, all prayer and all religious activities are inherently sectarian despite efforts to make them appear otherwise. Faith by its nature is personal and beyond legislation; therefore to nationalize or to socialize the religious function is to destroy its spiritual vision. Religion by Caesar becomes inevitably counterfeit religion.
For these reasons, if a constitutional amendment were adopted declaring socalled nonsectarian prayer lawful in the public schools of this land, the religious life of the Nation would be further confounded, exploited for secular aims, and corrupted. We would gain the appearance of spiritual vision at the cost of its reality. This is a prospect which we fervently hope and urge that we shall be spared.
STATEMENT OF THE AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE ON PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION TO PERMIT THE USE OF PRAYERS IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The American Jewish Committee, a national organization with chapters and units in over 50 cities and with membership in over 600 additional communities in the United States, was organized in 1906 and incorporated by a special act of the Legislature of the State of New York in 1911. Its charter states:
"The objects of this corporation shall be to prevent the infraction of the civil and religious rights of Jews, in any part of the world, to render all lawful assistance and to take appropriate remedial action in the event of threatened or actual invasion or restriction of such rights, or of unfavorable discrimination with respect thereto."
It was in pursuance of these objects that the American Jewish Committee in 1925 defended the right of parents to send their children to parochial schools to receive the type of education that the parents deemed best for their children. The great constitutional lawyer, Louis Marshall, then president of the American Jewish Committee, filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary (268 U.S. 510).
That brief characterized as "an invasion of liberty" the attempt of the Legislature of Oregon "to say to parents that, regardless of their ambitions and aspiration for their children, regardless of the love and affection which they bear them, regardless of their conscientious beliefs respecting the duty which they owe for the ethical, moral, and religious rearing of their children, the State may come in and take away from them that sacred right and the performance of the duty which they conscientiously believe that they owe to their children and to future generations." That statement in defense of the constitutional right of parents to send their children to religiously oriented private schools was accompanied, in the same brief, by the following: "Under our system of government the State is powerless, as it should be, to give religious instruction." It was in pursuance of the same charter objects that 37 years later the American Jewish Committee in 1962 filed an amicus curiae brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case arguing that the resolution of a local school board directing the recitation of the New York regents' prayer as a daily procedure in the public schools violates the constitutional prohibition against an establishment of religion. That case was Engel v. Vitale (82 S. Ct. 1261), and the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25 of this year handed down its 6-to-1 decision banning the use in public schools of a prayer composed and endorsed by the board of regents, an agency of the State.
Perhaps the major contribution of American political thought to Western civilization was the concept of the separation of church and state, which was intended to safeguard religious freedom and preserve our Nation against the type of tyranny that resulted in the Old World from using the state to achieve religious purposes or using the churches to buttress the temporal authority. This political and social philosophy, adopted by the Founding Fathers and written into the Constitution of the United States in the first amendment, is not based upon any hostility to religion, but upon the sound premise that both religion and government can work best to achieve their objectives if each is free from the other within its respective sphere. It has been this theory of relationship between religion and government, between church and state, that has nurtured the healthy development of over 250 different religious sects, denominations, and groups in the United States, each dependent solely upon the voluntary support of its adherents and not upon winning political power or receiving contributions from the Public Treasury. As Mr. Justice Frankfurter said in his concurring opinion in McCollum v. Board of Education (333 U.S. 203):
"*** We have staked the very existence of our country on the faith that complete separation between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion ***" (at 232).
The Supreme Court decision of June 25, 1962, was not the first time that an American court had banned religious exercises from the public schools despite provision for the excuse of children who object on grounds of conscience. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin, at the urging of Catholic petitioners, banned the reading of the King James version of the Bible from the public schools of that State in 1890:
"It is said, if reading the Protestant version of the Bible in school is offensive to the parents of some of the scholars, and antagonistic to their own religious views, their children can retire. They ought not to be compelled to go out of the school for such a reason, for one moment. The suggestion itself concedes the whole argument" (State ex rel. Weiss v. District Board, 76 Wisc. 177, 219, 220 (1890)). [Emphasis in original.]
The Supreme Court of Illinois reached a similar conclusion in 1910 when members of the Roman Catholic Church in a school district objected to the reading of the Protestant Bible in the public schools:
"The exclusion of a pupil from this part of the school exercises in which the rest of the school joins, separates him from his fellows, puts him in a class by himself, deprives him of his equality with the other pupils, subjects him to a religious stigma and places him at a disadvantage in the school, which the law never contemplated. All this is because of his religious belief. If the instruction or exercise is such that certain of the pupils must be excused from it because it is hostile to their own or their parents' religious belief, then such instruction or exercise is sectarian and forbidden by the Constitution" (People ex rel. Ring v. Board of Education, 245 Ill. 334, 351 (1910)).
And the highest court of Louisiana did likewise in 1915 at the urging of Jewish and Roman Catholic school patrons:
"And excusing such children on religious grounds, although the number excused might be very small, would be a distinct preference in favor of the
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 per
formed 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.
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” 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).
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." 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
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).