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sessions and its resolutions. We elect messengers rather than delegates.

Their role is to pass their own judgment on issues and convey that

information to the congregations. It has no impact of authority. While

considered as the best thinking of that group of Baptists in that

meeting, each of the congregations is free to accept or reject that

judgment as is each Baptist. As you know the messengers of our conven

tion in annual meeting this June voted in favor of the passage of

this legislation. The messengers in previous sessions had also spoken

to this issue in its varied forms. In 1964, 1971, and 1980 the

messengers voted to reject such proposals.

I come thankful for my heritage both as

a Baptist and as

a citizen

of a nation which fought its way through the process of deciding that

the best atmosphere in which religion could flourish and the state

could function was through separation of church and state. It has

been my responsibility in studying religious liberty issues to observe

and communicate with people in countries in which religious relation

ships with the state are tangled and strife-filled....such as Belfast,

North Ireland, Iran, and Israel. I have come away from those experiences

convinced again of the wisdom of our arrangement in America. I am

convinced that the best thing that can happen for religion in our

nation among both young and old is to keep it free from government

encroachment. In countries where religious passions are comingled

with the powers of the state, chaos rules. In countries in which govern

ment has sought to promote, sponsor, finance, or meddle with religion,

apathy is rampant. Officializing religion can only harm it.

I WOULD LIKE TO URGE YOU TO REJECT THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT ON

RELIGIOUS RITUAL IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS:

1. Because the answer to the current confusion about free exercise

of religion in public schools can be best worked out through the

processes of constitutional interpretations rather than through amend

ment of the basic document.

Don't amend it, interpret it.

There is confusion about what can and cannot be done in the free

exercise of our faith within the context of public education. A great

overreaction to the basic statements by the Supreme Court that

governmentally composed prayers could not be forced on students has

heightened this confusion. Both school patrons, boards, and adminis

trations have been caught up in that process. Some lower courts also

have demonstrated similar mixed interpretations of the free exercise

clause.

We are now caught up in a strange mixture of religious fervor

on the one hand and religious insecurity on the other. Patience is

wearing thin with the slow processes by which our society hammers

out the applications of its basic guarantees of freedom. You as

political leaders are particularly subjected to the emotional intensity

of that process. Simple slogans and a simple response are politically

expedient for some of us. However, this amendment will confuse far

more than it clarifies. It will create more barriers to genuine

religious expression than it eliminates. It will divide us more than

it unifies us.

For a number of years those caught up in the battle of

vigilance for freedom of religious conscience have, along with our

society as a whole, largely concentrated on hammering out the meaning

of the no establishment of religion clause of the constitution.

Religious groups bent on securing governmental powers of taxation

for propagating their faith have created the necessity of such a

process. The body of constitutional law interpreting the meaning of

no establishment of religion clause has gradually evolved. It has

been slow and often frustrating, but it ultimately provides healthy

answers for a society convinced both of its commitment to freedom

in diversity and to protecting the rights of religious expression.

Now our attention is being freshly turned to the meaning of the free

exercise of religion aspect of the constitution. Religious groups

bent on securing governmental powers of compulsory education for pro

pagating of their faith have created the necessity for such a process.

We must define the legitimate expressions and explanations of one's

faith within one's working relationships as

an educator or a student.

That process will be complex and difficult. However, it can be done

and must be done. The point is that it cannot be done with this

constitutional amendment.

To attempt to solve the issue of free exercise of religion in

public education as suggested in this amendment to the whole

constitution is to use

a sledge hammer and pick ax for an operation

which demands a laser beam and scalpel. The amendment itself would

create a whole new process for definition in constitutional law. With

as many as two thousand 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.

2.

Because the increase of sectarian strife which will be created

by this amendment process is counterproductive to the noble purposes

intended by its proponents.

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. There is no clause 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 they will be damaging.

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.

We are in the midst of an educational process. What do we teach in

creating such a no win situation for a little child.

Few genuine spiritual results can be expected in a routine of

ritual sponsored by adults who do not believe in what the ritual is

saying, forced with school routines and assignments like academic

disciplines. There are far better ways for families and religious

groups to go about their task of nourishing spiritual experience than

to seize the compulsory attendance laws and authority of school.

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. 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.

3.

Because the right to pray is already safe in our nation.

Individual prayer needs no protection because it cannot be

prevented.

The proposed amendment includes the words that nothing shall be

construed to prohibit individual prayer in public schools of our nation.

That wording implies that such prayers are subject to prevention or

prohibition. No court decision, no school board action, no teacher's

instruction can create or prevent individual prayer. Neither has any

effort been made of the legal processes of our nation to do so. That

precious experience is too valuable to trivialize. It is too personal

and inward to be started or stopped by external authority. It is too

essential to the well being of our nation for us to make it a

political football.

CONCLUSION:

You have been called on to examine this issue again and

again. I believe the public discussion of free exercise of religion

is healthy to our nation. The more I have examined it during these

twenty years since the Supreme Court spoke on required ritual in public

schools the more convinced I have become that if we

can diffuse 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.

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