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What we propose here today is nothing less than a new birth of freedom in this religiously pluralistic society. Our proposal would assure persons of every faith as well as those who do not believe the opportunity to participate in a variety of activity using the facilities of the public schools. There could be Bible study, prayer, religious instruction, panel presentations, or debates, according to the wishes of the local community.
Students would be free to attend whatever activity they wished. They could go to meetings of their own faith, or attend with friends at sessions of another faith. The appeal of the program, not the influence of the state, would dictate attendance. This is what religious freedom in truth, academic freedom - is all about. Our approach, to a great extent, reflects the free speech rational of the Supreme Court in Widmar v. Vincent, 102 S. Ct. 269 (1981), which held that religious speech is entitled to the same constitutional protection as any other form of speech on a state university campus.
Far from being divisive, such a free and diverse program would promote understanding and tolerance of others' beliefs. That to us would be a far healthier situation than the present state of affairs in the public schools where there is often intolerance of religious belief.
We are encouraged by the potential of a constitutional amendment which would restore a balance between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. We see no good reason why the states, if they choose, should not be permitted to cooperate with the people in allowing religious expression uninfluenced by the state in our public schools. It is time that our public schools cease to be the only public institution where a meaningful acknowledgment of God is forbidden.
STATEMENT OF SENATOR GRASSLEY Senator GRASSLEY. It has been 8 years since I came to the Congress and this is the first opportunity that I have had to consider in depth the subject of prayer in t'.e public schools and changing the Supreme Court decision.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to have this opportunity to hear the testimony of the many distinguished witnesses that are scheduled to appear before this committee today. I am especially pleased to see that my friends and colleagues, Senator Helms and Senator Hatfield, were here today to testify on this important issue. I looked forward to hearing their thoughts on this subject
We are here today to consider Senate Joint Resolution 199, President Reagan's proposed constitutional amendment relating to school prayer. This resolution, if approved by two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and subsequently ratified by three-fourths of the States, would add the following Article to the Constitution:
Nothing in this Constitution shall be construced to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any State to participate in prayer.
It has been nearly 20 years since the Supreme Court handed down its rulings in Engle v. Vitale and Abington v. Schemp. I remember well the tumult and uproar that followed these decisions From across the Nation there arose the call for the Congress to take immediate action to overrule these decisions. That was 20 years ago.
It has been noted that within 3 days of the Engle ruling, more than 50 proposed constitutional amendments were introduced. By the end of the 88th Congress, after Abington, more than 150 had been offered. Numerous such proposals with respect to this issue have been offered in every Congress since that time.
Of these, one of the most famous was the 1966 proposal offered by Senator Dirksen of Illinois, the gentleman for whom this building was named. The Dirksen amendment embodied language similar to that now offered by President Reagan. Extensive hearings on the Dirksen amendment were held in 1966 by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments.
Furthermore, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings in 1964 on a proposed constitutional amendment offered by Congressman Becker of New York. A thorough review of those proceedings allows for an enlightened perspective on this issue. I would hope that my colleagues, in evaluating the President's proposal, would pay deference to the voluminous record that was amassed in these proceedings.
Mr. Chairman, I am a firm believer in the power of prayer. Accordingly, I would hope that at some time during the school day my own children would have the opportunity to voluntarily acknowledge their belief in and dependence upon God through prayer without having that dampened, discouraged or prohibited by the State. My personal beliefs in this regard do not necessarily mean, however, that I am unshakeably wedded to any specific measure which has been proposed so far. But I do congratulate the President for having the courage and strength to have taken a leadership position on this amendment. His actions have reopened the form of deliberation on this critical issue and I think that that is something that is appreciated by people at the grassroots as the polls show overwhelming support for the concept of such a proposal.
I share the concerns of those who have witnessed the heavyhandedness with which the lower Federal courts have interpreted and applied the Engle and Abington decisions. The problems that have arisen from these interpretations often seem to have little connection to the original Supreme Court decisions. I would like to note the comments in this regard made by Mr. Robert P. Dugan, Jr. in his prepared testimony. He states:
If interpreted narrowly, those decisions would not necessarily have proven harmful, but in practice the lower courts and school administrators have carried the spirit of those decisions further than was warranted.
It appears to me that there remains much confusion as to just what types of activities are outlawed by the Engle and Abington decisions. Perhaps the most damaging consequences of these decisions have been their chilling effect on the policies of local school boards. I would hope that through these proceedings we could shed some light on the true meaning of the Supreme Court's decisions.
Furthermore, we should determine if there are any specific problems that have arisen from the lower court interpretations of those decisions. If such problems are identified, then it would be appropriate to investigate all channels by which these problems could be rectified. We may find that there may be more effective vehicles than Senate Joint Resolution 199 for this purpose.
It is not a simple task to sort through the complex and emotional problems that are raised by the President's proposed amendment. I am sure that in the course of these proceedings we will have ample opportunity to raise and discuss the numerous questions that are posed by this amendment. For example: What is voluntary prayer? Are any other types of religious activities protected by this amendment? Is the prayer protected by this amendment to be nondenominational? Is there any such thing as a truly nondenominational prayer? Who will compose such prayers? Will the States have the opportunity to define their own policies in this regard? And we could go on and on with other questions that we hope to have answered.
In closing I would urge my colleagues to exercise extreme caution in their efforts to alter in any manner the protections of religious freedom afforded by the first amendment to the Constitution. If this body should determine that there is an imbalance in the court's interpretations of the free exercise clause and the establishment clause, then some course of action may be in order. We must be careful however not to tip the scales in our efforts to rectify these practical problems.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
May I ask you to help me out on something, if you can? We have a vote pending on the floor and rather than delay for perhaps 12 minutes while both of us go, would you be kind enough to go and then come back and relieve me while I go?
The second panel we will hear from today will consist of Mr. Ed McAteer, Dr. Ron Godwin, who is unable to come; and Mr. Gary Jarmin.
Welcome, gentlemen, and proceed with your opening statements.
STATEMENTS OF ED McATEER, RELIGIOUS ROUNDTABLE, AR
LINGTON, VA; AND GARY JARMIN, DIRECTOR, PROJECT PRAYER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Mr. McATEER. My name is Ed McAteer. I am president of the Religious Roundtable, a 50-State organization of business political and religious leaders whose focus is public policy concerning moral issues. I am especially delighted to speak in favor of this constitutional amendment today because of what I perceive to be the tremendous importance that it has to not only the well being of our country but to all of Western civilization.
I would like to, first of all, bring into focus, if I am able to, the priority that God places on prayer and then the following positive results of prayer. I would like to do that by beginning with a little poem called The Secret. It goes thusly:
I met God in the morning when my day was at its best and his presence came like sunrise, like a glory in my breast. All day long his presence lingered. All day long he stayed with me and we sailed with perfect calmness over a very troubled sea. Other ships were broke and battered. Other ships were sore distressed, but the winds which seemed to drive them brought to me a perfect rest. Then I thought of other mornings with a keen remorse of mind when I too had left the moorings, with His presence there behind. So I think I know the secret learned from many a troubled way, you must seek God in the morning if you want Him through the day.
And Senator, your name's sake, the great prophet Jeremiah, had this to say. He said: “Call unto me and I will answer Thee and I will show Thee great and mighty things which Thou knowest not."-Jeremiah 33:3.
In the first chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the Bible reminds us that the praise of the saints like a sweet-smelling perfume comes up before the altar of the Lord.
The Book of Isaiah says that: “His ear is not heavy, that it cannot hear. His arm is not short, that he cannot save. But our inequities have separated between us and our God.
And then quoting from former President Eisenhower's favorite scripture: "If My people which are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, and seek my face then will I hear from Heaven and will heal their land.”
Second, I think it is very important, as has been said, that we understand the difference in the separation of church and state and the separating of God from government. I personally am strongly opposed to church over state or vice versa but I have no question about it, that after a thorough investigation, our Founding Fathers did not in any way have in mind what has happened since 1962–or did happen in 1962. That, I submit, was separating God from government.
I ask the question: Were we wrong for 300 years in the schoolrooms of our country by allowing our children to pray? Have we been wrong for 170 years after the establishment of the first amendment?
Third, in answer to those who contend we already have voluntary prayer in public schools, I would answer that by saying, certainly, people in Siberian labor camps can practice voluntary prayer. A prisoner in solitary confinement on death row can practice voluntary prayer. This is not what we have in mind when we say that our little children should be allowed in the classrooms of this country to pray.
Fourth, the consequences of a "go without God” philosophy in our Nation's classrooms since the 1962 court decision, from the standpoint of discipline problems, moral problems, and academic records, I submit—that there is a predictable tracing of what has happened.
And fifth, with others who have already mentioned it, the overwhelming majority of the American people support the President on this amendment, something like 75 percent.
Recently at the Nation's largest evangelical convention, the Southern Baptist's Convention, when the question was properly framed, when the agenda for the debate was properly set, overwhelmingly the people when they were asked what they thought about voluntary prayer, they voted 3 to 1 in favor of this constitutional amendment.
Sixth, I submit that for the well-being of our country we must practice and promote anywhere we can, not pervert and prevent, prayer and in answer to those, some sincerely, that are afraid of the heathen praying, I would remind them of the Prophet Elijah. He invited those that did not believe in God to pray. As a matter of fact, he invited 450 prophets all day long to pray and after they went through their futile exercises, then Elijah prayed, things happened in the nation.
Thomas Jefferson dipped his pen and wrote: Prudence, indeed, will dictate that government long established should not be changed for light and transient causes, and accordingly, all experience has shown that mankind is more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. Notwithstanding, if it be true that no rulers can be safe where the doctrine of resistance is taught, it must be true that no nation can be safe where the contrary is taught.
Jefferson wrote that when any form of government becomes destructive of its ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation of such principles and organizing its powers in such forms as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Friends, I soberly remind you, if we stand tamely by while the enemies of God are so busy fostering this ill-advised evil, we will fall despised and unpitied and our ruin will be of ourselves.
As matters of political nature are to be found in the word of God, to discourse upon them is sometimes our duty and it is especially so at this day, in which we are called to contend for both our civil and religious rights. It is now our duty to faithfully warn our people of their danger and seriously caution them to beware of anything that may be prejudicial to both our conventions and country's cause.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under despotism it is their right, it is their duty to