Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

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
understand and interpret my faith) with a measure of confidence
and hope because of the nature of the republic and the composition
of its peoples. We are encouraged freely to express and exercise
our convictions while being denied the right to impose those
convictions on others. The doctrine of the separation of church
and state, as defined in: the First Amendment of the Constitution,
provides the essential safeguards. It insists that the church
dare not be vicwed as an arm of the state. It insists that the
state dare not dominate or intimidate the church. The "wall
of separation" is a porous wall. Each of these fundamental
institutions of society, church and state, will influence
the other. Neither, in the final analysis, will be permitted
to control the other. This is doubtless what Martin Brown,
an eminent American jurist, had in mind when he called the
doctrine of separation, "the greatest achievement ever made in
the course of human progress. Nothing must be done to destroy
that achievement.

11

It is because I believe in the Constitution of the United States
and in the persuasive and contagious power of the Gospel of Jesus
Christ that I stand unalterably opposed to the so-called "school-
prayer amendment." Let the church be the church, a basic
social institution where the tenets and practices of the faith
can and should be taught and practiced. Let the home be the home,
where parents can teach their young by precept and example that
which they believe. And let the state be the state, neither an
arm of sectarian Christianity, nor a voice for unbelief, but an
expression of government which guarantees the rights of each
individual to be faithful to his or her own conscience.

I am a father and a grandfather. I want the youngsters in our
family to be brought up in a religious tradition. My home and my
church must assume this nurturing responsibility. I do not
want a teacher who happens to be a religious or an irreligious
zealot, a person who may be the antithesis of that which my
particular faith represents, to use the public school as arena
for manipulating and forming the philosophy of life of members
of our family. That is not the function of the state. It is the
blessed privilege and responsibility of the institution of
religion and of the family to impart religious truth.

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

was.

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

Armstrong

In fact, in a 1959 policy, statement in opposition to the

"Christian Amendment," the Board stated:

Previous attempts to maintain "Christian states," in earlier
centuries as well as our own, have been fraught with great
problems and have failed in disillusion. They have frequently
denied general liberty, and religious liberty in particular,
to all who did not belong to the dominant body of Christians....
To declare the United States a "Christian nation' in the church-
man's sense of "Christian" is to assert less of truth than of

pretension.
(This policy statement is attached.)

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

to life

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

religious enough.

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;
for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at
the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly,
I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray,

go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father
who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will
reward you.

(Matthew 6: 5-6)

Christians should be wary of public school prayers for this reason,

i

for no

er. It surprises us to see those who

to be

"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,

particularly when

as in the case of public-school children

they

are brought together by coercion of law.

They are not without other

places to pray, together with others of common belief, if they should

[ocr errors][merged small]

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

Lord's admonition

are not entitled to commandeer public institutions

as vehicles for their own free exercise of religion at the expense of

others

equally citizens and equally entitled to the use of the public

arena

who may not wish to pray at that place or occasion.

To tell

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!

III

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

have

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

their elders.

And there is no need for a Constitutional amendment to

enable adults to set a moral and righteous example for their children.

[blocks in formation]

about using prayer to make a public show for ulterior reasons.

The proposed amendment is unnecessary in another respect.

If it

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

without it.

...it might well be said that one's education is not complete
without a study of comparative religion and its relationship to
the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said
that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic
qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study
of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part
of a secular program of education, may not be effected
consistently with the First Amendment. 7

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

little premature.

FOOTNOTES

1.

Littell, Franklin H., From State Church to Pluralism,

Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1962.

2.

Blau, Joseph L., Cornerstones of Religious Freedom in America,

Boston: Beacon Press, 1949, p. 74-75, emphasis added.

3.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).

4.

Questions and Answers on the President's Voluntary School Prayer
Amendment, The White House, Washington, D.C., May 6, 1982, p.3.

5.

The Administration's Proposed Constitutional Amendment Relating to
School Prayer, May 14, 1982, p. 32-33.

6.

Commonwealth v. Cooke, 7 Am. L. Reg. 417 (1859), involving Bible-
reading in Massachusetts.

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »