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With as many as 2,000 religious expressions in our Nation, there are scores of definitions of prayer. Every law school in America would have to have a constitutional law course just on defining what prayer is and is not.
So we have created a whole new stream of constitutional cases if we go with this amendment, generalized as it is.
Second, I believe it is unwise because of the increase in sectarian strife that would be created by this amendment process and that that is counterproductive to the noble purposes intended by its opponents.
Increasing sectarian conflict decreases the quality of both religion and education.
Every effort has been made by the proponents of this amendment to choose words which would avoid conflict. But there is no cause or disclaiming sentence in the English language which will change the basic facts involved in this proposal.
Allowing for the prayer or religious ritual to be chosen by the majority of the community with due process of recognition of the exceptions present will not eliminate religious emotions creating sectarian strife. While some proponents of this amendment, living themselves in basically homogeneous communities, shrug off the implication of Baptist children being subjected to buddhist prayers or Mormon children being confronted by Roman Catholic ritual, I can assure you that the emotional conflicts in communities which will be aroused if this amendment passes is debated in every State legislature and is applied in diverse communities will be real and will be damaging to what we are really trying to provide in this society which is an atmosphere for spiritual awakening.
No clause or disclaiming sentence in the English language can remove the stigma and peer pressure on the child who chooses not to participate in the group ritual of religion other than his own. One of the things we need to hear is this is an educational process that this amendment seeks to change, not the processes that we inherited from the reforms of government in England where it was all-all of governmental activities began with an acknowledgment of God. There you do not have little children brought together under compulsory education laws with parental rights about what ought to be going on in the lives of their children. So we are really dealing with an inadequate illustration when we talk about the kinds of prayers that are being done in governmental processes and official activities over what is being done in an educational process in a school. I believe that this is an unwise approach.
The public school is already an endangered species in our land. Many are now questioning the wisdom of our decision to effect social change through the public education system because while some of these changes are commendable and desirable, the scar tissue of those conflicts on the educational systems themselves are apparent. For Congress to thrust this process back into the fiery furnaces of religious conflict by putting this issue on the agenda of every State legislature and every community may well make an early casualty of this new round of creedal strife the public school itself.
Therefore, I urge that we not accept this method of redressing this problem of how to define the free exercise of religion in our schools.
You have been called to examine this issue again and again and I believe that the public discussion of free exercise is healthy to our system. But the more I have examined it during these 20 years since the Supreme Court spoke on required ritual in public schools, the more convinced I have become that if we defuse this issue of its periodic emotional intensity and move through already tested processes, we can arrive at the understanding of free exercise of religion which will be best for the State and best for religion. This constitutional amendment would be a mistake rather than a solution.
Senator DENTON. Thank you, Dr. Allen. Dr. Bergstrom, I note the arrival of Congressman Kindness from Ohio and if I might, I would like to ask him to take a seat at this table and to deliver any statement he cares to before we resume.
STATEMENT OF HON. THOMAS KINDNESS, A U.S.
REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE STATE OF OHIO. Mr. KINDNESS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee and to testify with respect to the amendment to the Constitution which is the subject of this hearing.
I also appreciate Senator Thurmond introducing this amendment and causing these hearings to be held to open the discussion of an amendment
Some of the discussion which has taken place already with respect to the proposed amendment to the Constitution to clarify the meaning of prayer in relation to government in our Nation illustrates just how broad the concept is that is under discussion; that is, the debate is much like prayer itself. A great many views are expressed and will be expressed and I think prayer perhaps has a most deep and personal meaning to everyone who adopts prayer as a practice or believes in prayer, just as people adopt various arguments for or against such constitutional amendment.
Prayer is an important part of the life and way of living of Americans of many religious beliefs. It is too important to remain in a doubt-filled legal status. The law of this Nation is presently burdened by a misguided series of judicial opinions which tend to lead this Nation away from prayer, away from religion, and away from morality. The very direction of the progression of those cases proves that those who are interested in promoting prayer and in promoting religion have not been very successful vis-a-vis the courts.
As President Reagan remarked upon the occasion of the National Day of Prayer, May 6, 1982, when he proposed this amendment, "Prayer has sustained our people in crisis, strengthened us in times of challenge, and guided us through our daily lives since the first settlers came to this continent." Even though we embrace a marvelous variety of faiths and practices, the historic importance of religion and the morality and values that such faith implies are deeply imbedded in our national character. And in our diversity there is great strength. We do not choose to force our values on those who do not agree with us, but neither do we shrink from acknowledging our dependence upon a great power.
It is time to put the question to the States of this Union: Should the Constitution of the United States be amended by adding the following language and its words are beautifully clear.
Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed 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.
Changing the Constitution is not an easy task, nor should it be. I would be the first to object to any move to alter that great document for a trivial purpose. It is because I feel so strongly about this basic right of every person to communicate with God freely, as he or she chooses, that I offered this amendment in the House of Representatives.
If the Congress of the United States and the legislative bodies of three-fourths of the States should choose to support this declaration of that right, then I believe our Nation would be immeasurably strengthened. I agree with the President that it was the intention of our Founding Fathers that the right to pray be protected from governmental interference, not that religious tolerance requires us to remove prayer from our classrooms and public institutions.
I introduced House Joint Resolution 493 on May 25 of this year, and it has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where no action has been taken.
Two days ago a discharge petition was filed, discharge petition No. 20. When 218 Members have signed that petition, it will be placed on the discharge calendar where it must remain for 7 legislative days before it can be called up.
This is only to illustrate that the time is very tight in the House of Representatives, in the other body.
The first opportunity to consider this resolution on the floor will occur on Monday, September 13. Any Member who has signed the discharge petition may call it up on that date, after we get approval of the Journal.
This may sound simple, but it was not meant to be an easy way to legislate, and the time requirements are very stringent. I trust as this body will be proceeding with the constitutional amendment that we will be able, on the other side of the Capitol, to be proceeding concurrently, in parallel.
I think the debate that will ensue nationally can be nothing but healthy. We may differ without being difficult about it; but certainly with regard to a subject as important as this, we need to call upon our best intellectual resources, our best theological resources, the best legal resources. But the fact remains that prayer does not belong to the theologians, to the lawyers, to the legislators, to any particular grouping. Prayer belongs to us.
Mr. Chairman, I deeply appreciate the opportunity to present this testimony and commend the chairman for the work in proceeding with these hearings.
Senator Denton. I shall pass that on to Chairman Thurmond and I wish to express for him and myself our gratitude for your time and your comments this morning.
Mr. BERGSTROM. It is good to see you again, Senator. I remember our discussion at Old Dominion University last fall.
I would like to shift gears a little bit for my benefit as well as everyone else's and suggest what is more helpful in the kind of discussion going on this morning. My remarks are being added to the record. For instance, as I have listended to the other two panels, I am more convinced that I am opposed to the amendment and to any effort to bring prayer into the schools.
REVIEW OF COMMENTS
Let me review some of the things that have been said.
Senator Thurmond talked about the Senate prayers. Obviously those are by adults who make that decision. A 6-year-old child in a public school, particularly if that is a minority child religiously, never gets that opportunity to decide. He described prayers as “values.” That is the last thing many of us would want the prayer to become is "values." For us it is a personalized thing; just as children need to learn to drive automobiles they also need to learn about their faith in God from their parents and their religion.
Senator Helms spoke about a Mr. Murray. I would not want Mr. Murray or his mother to pray for my children any place; not that they are better or worse, but that their faith is different and could be disturbing. He also addressed the media, as I am sure they were well aware. I would like to address the same thing to the Senate and the church in terms of some humility in approach to this issue.
Rabbi Siegel spoke about the division between the church and state as a "hedge.” A hedge is often filled with prickles and I think there is a clear definition that we ought to give to that. Church and state need to be separated institutionally. They can interact in all kinds of ways but we need to be very careful that we do not meld them together with a knockdown kind of hedge. I am sure that Mr. Murphy has read the writings of Brother Travers, a Catholic educator, who writes that when you are really gong to pray you need a basis of dogma and something that is related to your faith in God.
Mr. Dugan spoke about "truncated definitions” on the part of those who might oppose this amendment. I would like to read an old evangelical writer who would be 500 years old next year, Martin Luther, who says, “Where secular power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches on God's government and only misleads and destroys the soul.” That is not truncated but deeply significant.
Mr. Denton, you spoke about prayer being in the name of." I think all of us would agree with Mr. Kindness, that it is not only the theologians but to all of us to whom prayer belongs. "In the name of God” means in the spirit of God.
Mr. McAteer spoke about the "enemies of God," those who might disagree about school prayer and oppose the amendment. I plead that we do not use those kinds of terms as he was using. They have been used lately in mailings, and all kinds of judgments made about people who may disagree. It will not do any good for either cause.
Mr. Jarmin twice spoke of prayers "of value reference.” God help us if prayer becomes a value reference. I would like to hear some scripture references to support that. He said that wherever two or three are gathered together we are sure well aware that Christ's name is said. But it is only when they can gather together in the name of faith or their God that prayer can be meaningful.
CONCERN FOR PRAYER
Lutherans prepare statements and what you have before you is a representative statement of three Lutheran bodies.
I would like to acknowledge this morning the presence of Dr. John Houck, general secretary of the Lutheran Council. That is the umbrella group for which I work. I would remind all the Members of the Senate and this committee there are 40 offices like mine in Washington, D.C. You do not hear much about them. They do not have a great deal of publicity going for them. But many of them would have been here if they had had the opportunity. I cannot speak for them but what I can tell you probably comes close to this panel's testimony.
I am a born-again Lutheran evangelical Christian and therefore the scriptures mean a great deal to me. Theologically I do not see that relationship to morality and prayer. Some atheists have better morals than some people I know that call themselves Christians, particularly when it comes to areas of civil rights and deep moral compunction.
The God we believe in has two hands. One works for the salvation of our eternal soul. The other works for justice in this world. If you mix those two together and make judgments about people who are voting a particular way or saying certain things about prayer, I think that is an abomination to God and to the spirit of His ministry to His good world. There is nothing wrong with His world except when we mess it up, as we mess up Congress and mess up the church.
It is in that spirit that we need to develop a sense of godliness about what we do in education as every place else. There has not been a quotation from the teachings of Christ so far on prayer. I know it is in Dr. Kelley's written report. I would like to remind all of us that when Christ prayed he went alone to the woods and up in the mountains and said to pray in the closet. It was a personal reference to God. He could also do that with His disciples because they believed and worshiped together. I know Mr. Dershowitz will speak to the justice issue. But I want everyone to know that I believe God is concerned for justice, as He is for my eternal soul because all of the scriptures point that out.
The first amendment is not for the majority. We are doing fine and I do not see any great threats to prayer over the last 170 years. I see a free opportunity for people to worship and pray constantly, as they want, in the spirit of St. Paul who in many of his letters wrote about prayer being constant and unceasing That kind of voluntary prayer has never been outlawed as you have heard many times this morning. So it is in that spirit that prayer to me be