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Indianapolis Area of the United Methodist Church, has emphasized this
reality in a statement which he prepared to be included in this testimony:
I am a Christian. I pray for the coming day when my country, the United States of America will be a Christian nation. By that I mean I pray for the coming of a day when the values, ideals, spirit and commitment of this nation will reflect those of the Man from Nazareth. Yet, even as I write this, I realise that these words mean different things to different Christian people. Roman Catholics and members of the Assemblies of God, Syrian Orthodox, Christian Presbyterians, Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists would not agree on what is meant by "the values, ideals, spirit and commitment...of the man from Nazareth." Again even as I write these words, I am mindful of the fact that ours is a pluralistic nation in which Catholic Christians, and Protestant Christians, Muslims, and Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, honest agnostics and convinced non-believers are regarded as equal under the law.
I can pray that the United States will become Christian (as I
It is because I believe in the Constitution of the United States
I am a father and a grandfather. I want the youngsters in our
I will continue to pray and work for the evangelization of my country. I will, however, stand opposed to those who would write their sectarian metaphysics or religious practices into the laws of the land.
The United States is no longer a "Christian nation" -- if it ever
The National Council of Churches is opposed to the mistaken claim
that it is, or ever could be, except in the sense suggested by Bishop
In fact, in a 1959 policy, statement in opposition to the
"Christian Amendment," the Board stated:
Previous attempts to maintain "Christian states," in earlier
Many people have responded favorably to the proposal to
"get the government off our backs," and particularly to keep it out
of any activities that might interfere in family life and the nuture
of children by their parents.
It is surprising that some of the same
people are now proposing to allow State and local governments, through
the state instrumentalities of public schools, to introduce religious
forms and practices that will be at odds with those which some parents
are trying to inculcate in their children.
In this most sensitive
area of family life, the clumsy and untutored intrusion of governmental
authorities, however well-intended, is especially unwise.
It is sometimes claimed that some children would never hear the
name of God if they did not have the benefit of public-school prayers,
but that is precisely the kind of intrusion that some parents, if they
are intentionally bringing up their children in a non-theistic approach
as is their right
may wish to avoid.
Other parents may
feel that their particular devout form of faith will not benefit from
perfunctory recitations of someone else's prayers in a non-ecclesiastical
setting, and so oppose it because public schools prayers are not
The National Council of Churches cannot overlook the fact that
Christians are admonished by the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on
the Mount not to make a show of prayer in public places:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites;
go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father
(Matthew 6: 5-6)
Christians should be wary of public school prayers for this reason,
er. It surprises us to see those who
"Bible-believing Christians" disregarding this central admonition on
how Christians should pray and pressing for a Constitutional amend
ment which would allow what the Lord of the Church does not.
It is especially unwise to inject prayer into a gathering of
people brought together for other, and non-religious purposes,
as in the case of public-school children
are brought together by coercion of law.
They are not without other
places to pray, together with others of common belief, if they should
And the contention that some of them may wish to pray
in a public institution does not make it incumbent on others to accede
to that wish.
Those who wish to pray in public places
contrary to the
are not entitled to commandeer public institutions
as vehicles for their own free exercise of religion at the expense of
equally citizens and equally entitled to the use of the public
who may not wish to pray at that place or occasion.
the latter that they may be excused is to permit the former to pre
empt the effective ownership of that public place by assertion of
religious (as distinguished from civic) claims, a rather arrogant
concept of what is necessary for their religious liberty!
Lastly, the proposed Constitutional amendment is unnecessary,
since any person can pray to God at any time or place, and the Supreme
Court cannot prevent it, nor can the Congress enable it.
It is only
oral, collective, unison prayer that requires "state action," and since that
kind of prayer is not necessarily more efficacious than the silent,
inward petition of the heart
(as well as being less consonant with
Christ's admonition), it is obviously being sought for symbolic reasons,
to make some kind of a statement or demonstration about the nature of
the public school, the state, the nation.
Indeed, that is a recurrent argument of proponents of a prayer
amendment: that public schools
and our whole society
deteriorated since prayer was removed from public schools, and that
restoring it will rectify the accumulated ills of the past two decades:
vandalism, violence, drug addiction, delinquency, sexual promiscuity,
an perversion, etc.
Would that restoring prayers in public schools
could have such a result!
But children's lives are not transformed by
magical incantations but by the models set for them in the conduct of
And there is no need for a Constitutional amendment to
enable adults to set a moral and righteous example for their children.
about using prayer to make a public show for ulterior reasons.
The proposed amendment is unnecessary in another respect.
is desired to make children more fully conscious of the religious roots
and nature of this society, that can be done better by instructional,
rather than devotional, means.
After all, a school is better at teaching
than at playing church.
It would be appropriate for the public schools
to teach children about the important part religion has played in human
life, in history, in art, music and literature.
The Supreme Court has
not forbidden that; in fact, it said that no education is truly complete
...it might well be said that one's education is not complete
Yet few public schools are making any effort to fulfill that aspect of a
"complete education," and few churches or church people are pressing
them to do so.
If, after that immense opportunity has been utilized to
the fullest, there is still a deficit in the public-school graduate's
understanding of the importance of religion, then it may be time to
consider amending the Constitution, but until then, it seems more than a
Littell, Franklin H., From State Church to Pluralism,
Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1962.
Blau, Joseph L., Cornerstones of Religious Freedom in America,
Boston: Beacon Press, 1949, p. 74-75, emphasis added.
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
Questions and Answers on the President's Voluntary School Prayer
The Administration's Proposed Constitutional Amendment Relating to
Commonwealth v. Cooke, 7 Am. L. Reg. 417 (1859), involving Bible-