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PREPARED STATEMENT OF CHARLES V, BERGSTROM
My name is Charles V. Bergstrom. I serve as Executive Director of the Office for Governmental Affairs, the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A. On behalf of the Council, I express appreciation to the Senate Judiciary Committee for the opportunity to testify in opposition to S.J. Res. 199, the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution dealing with prayer in public schools.
I am speaking on behalf of three church bodies of the Lutheran Council:
The American Lutheran Church, headquartered in Minneapolis,
The Lutheran Church in America, headquartered in New York,
The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, head-
These Lutheran church bodies maintain that the proposed constitutional amendment is unnecessary from a religious point of view and unwise from a public policy perspective.
The Lutheran church bodies I represent are aware of the serious theological and public policy difficulties which arise when government mandates religious exercises in public schools. Since the landmark decisions of the Suprene Court in 1962 and 1963 (Engel and Schempp cases, 370 U.S. 421 and 374 U.S. 203), these churches have consistently resisted legislative attempts to circumvent the court's actions or to enact a prayer amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This activity has been undertaken carefully and deliberately. Within these church bodies, consideration has been given to the school prayer issue by lay persons and members of the clergy, by individuals within our congregations and staff of regional and national church offices. The position I am presenting here has been determined in national church conventions at which congregational representatives gather, and subsequent implementation has taken place according to the churches' constitutions and bylaws. It represents the end result of an organized and democratic process which is acknowledged as legitimate by members of these church bodies.*
INAPPROPRIATE RELIGIOUS PRACTICE. Our position on school prayer reflects our theological and biblical conviction that prayers in public schools are not essential to the cultivation of religion in our youth. Prayer and religious readings in public school classrooms are often ritualistic in character with dubious value either as an educational or religious experience. In fact, prescribed prayer can be harmful, especially when offered under any measure of duress by an atheist or imposed on a person of different faith. The church bodies I represent maintain that the nurture of religious faith belongs in the home and in the church, not in the public schools. The families, not the school boards, have overriding responsibility for their children's religious education. We would make the following assertions:
We object theologically to "non-denominational prayers" which may uncritically mix nationalism and religion. As the Lutheran Church in America statement cited above says so clearly, "The more we attempt as Christians or Americans to insist on common denominator religious exercise or instruction in public schools, the greater the risk we run of diluting our faith and contributing to a vague religiosity which defines religion with patriotism and becomes a national folk religion."
*This testimony is based on statements of the Lutheran churches on prayer in public schools, two of which date back to 1964: "Prayer and Bible Reading in the Public Schools" (Lutheran Church in America) and "Prayer in Public Schools" (The American Lutheran Church). Since that time, the position articulated in these statements has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Executivel Church Councils of these bodies and by their biennial conventions. These actions were affirmed in 1980 by the biennial national convention of the Lutheran Church in America, assembled in Seattle, Washington, and in 1981 by the Church Council of the American Lutheran Church.
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2. We believe that the purpose of prayer is to praise and petition God, not to serve the secular purpose of creating a moral or ethical atmosphere for public school children. Prayer is communication with God which may change the person who prays--but it is not a tool to be used to "christianize" or "moralize" public education. Thus, the intent in sponsoring public school prayer is vitally important, and the Lutheran churches I represent resist any attempt by legislators or by school authorities to inject prayer into the public classroom in an effort to simply create a wholesome milieu for public school learning or to overcome immorality, as some independent preachers claim it should.
We perceive no need to "put God back into education" by sponsoring prayer in the classroom. He is there. As Lutherans in the U.S., we affirm the principle of "institutional separation and functional interaction" between church and government and recognize the distinctive calling and sphere of activity of each institution. We believe that God is active and powerful in all human affairs and operates through human institutions which maintain peace, establish justice, protect and advance human rights, and educate children--all proper concerns of the government.
God's involvement in the good things of His creation, including education, is dependent on His love for us, not on government-sponsored prayer in public schools or other public buildings. One does not become more moral or evangelical by pushing for prayer in public school.
4. We are concerned about the quality of public school education and understand it to be inadequate when it is premised either on indifference or antagonism to the religious elements in history, in community life or in the lives of individuals. While the Supreme Court has ruled state-mandated prayer unconstitutional, it has not ruled out the study of religion in public schools. In this area, Lutherans see a positive challenge to interact with public school educators in order to develop programs which acknowledge the religious and moral dimensions of life while also respecting the larger religious neutrality mandated by the Constitution. Lutherans are responding to this challenge in many communities. I would be glad to share with you some of my own experiences in this area from the time I was a parish pastor.
The Lutheran church bodies I represent acknowledge that the historical situation in the United States has changed since the early days of the Republic when underlying religious beliefs were assumed. The influx of new inmigrants, with varying traditions and creeds, and a range of other historical circumstances have contributed to a society which is thoroughly pluralistic. The Lutheran churches view this situation as a challenge and not a threat--a challenge to articulate clearly the tenents of our faith in this pluralistic culture rather than cling to practices which may have been appropriate at an earlier stage in our nation's development but which need reevaluation in the light of historical change.
QUESTIONABLE PUBLIC POLICY. The Lutheran churches I represent also recognize the public policy difficulties prayer in public school creates in terms of the religious rights of the individual and the welfare of the community as a whole. As Lutherans in the U.S., we cherish the guarantees of religious liberty which were written into the Constitution. We affirm the fact that the government safeguards the rights of all persons and groups in our society to the free exercise of their religious beliefs and makes no decisions regarding the validity or orthodoxy of any doctrine. These religious freedoms are guaranteed to all, to members of traditional religious groups, nonconformists and non-believers. We recognize that, given our pluralistic culture, religious exercises in public schools--even "non-denominational prayer"--infringe on the rights of some individuals and groups in society and invite sectarian divisiveness in the community. There is nothing holy or helpful in efforts to make this a "christian" nation by school prayer. It is indeed questionable that this can do anything but harm religious faith.
The changes mandated by the 1962/63 Supreme Court decisions should be understood in a positive rather than a negative light by those concerned about religious freedoms. A 1971 statement of the Church Council of the American Lutheran Church affirming these decisions expresses this sentiment and focuses on the freedons protected by the Court rather than the restrictions posed:
We are free to pray in our own words to our own God. We are
faith. These freedoms and these protections our Constitution,
The following Lutheran Church in America statement, reaffirmed in July 1980 by representatives of the congregations gathered in convention in Seattle, Washington, discusses the public policy implications of prayer in public schools:
A due regard for all religious faiths and also for non-believers
The Supreme Court has not prohibited voluntary prayer in schools-indeed, there is no way it could ban personal communication between an individual and God. What has not stood up to judicial scrutiny are prayer sessions mandated by law or organized by school officials. Contrary to the statement of President Reagan, children may be hurt by classroom prayers or the need to leave a classroom because of prayer.
The question of just what comprises voluntary prayer is central to this issue. The Lutheran churches, like the courts, question whether any schoolorganized prayer sessions can be completely "voluntary." Children attending public schools are there under compulsion of public law. Public school facilities are used, and the teachers--symbols of authority in the classroom--may supervise the exercise. These factors combine to operate with indirect coercive force on young and impressionable children, inducing them to take part in these exercises, despite freedom to be excused from participation. Persons with a genuine regard for prayer and the Bible object to having their children engage in these exercises when they are mandated by the compulsion of law. Our fundamental question is, "Whose prayers are to be offered?" This question has been too easily ignored in the promotion of this amendment by sincere but only glibly theological religious coalitions.
Such religious organizations differ among themselves as to what type of "voluntary prayer" would be acceptable from their religious perspective. Some would find interdenominational prayer acceptable, while others would insist on non-denominational prayer; yet others would find either practice unsuitable. To deal with these religious differences, several have suggested that "community standards" be the means for determining actual practice in the public schools. However, the "community standard" argument ignores the reality and the depth of these religious differences, especially as they regard minority groups, and does not seriously weigh the fundamental constitutional questions involved in this practice. Religious differences, even among advocates of school prayer, will surely find expression in diverse practices which could result in separate communities experiencing a greater or lesser degree of religious freedom.
The Lutheran churches' belief in God and the variety of channels through which He works is biblical and personal. We believe we are carrying out God's work through the church's evangelical ministry of salvation. Yet another facet of our response to God's Word is working with government to establish justice in the world for all groups and for all individuals--those who believe in God and those who do not. However, these two ministries of Lutheran churches are not to be uncritically confused; different means are appropriate to achieve the goals of our different ministries. Prayer is a personal communication with God, to be used because of our faith in God; it is not an appropriate public policy tool. Conversely, in our historical situation, the public schools are not an appropriate channel for evangelization. Our understanding of both of these ministries of the church leads us to strongly oppose the proposed constitutional amendment on prayer in public schools.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF NATHAN Z. DERSHOWITZ
On behalf of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory
Council and the Synagogue Council of America, we welcome this
opportunity to testify concerning S.J.R. 199, a proposed constitutional
amendment to permit prayer in the public schools and other public
American Organization for Rehabilitation and Training (ORT), B'nai
B'rith, Anti-Defamation League, National Council of Jewish Women,
of American Hebrew Congregations, Union of Orthodox Jewish
Congregations in America, and United Syngogue of America
as well as
111 local Jewish community relations councils.
The NJCRAC has long opposed prayer in the public schools.
Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue of America, Rabbinical Council of
America, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Central
Conference of American Rabbis and the Union of American Hebrew
It recently noted its opposition to prayer in the public schools as follows:
It is significant that the Synagogue Council
In the interest of religion, we therefore urge
S.J.Res. 199 would amend the United States Constitution by
adding the following language:
Nothing in this constitution shall be construed
The organizations joining in this statement urge rejection of this
We regard the principle of religious liberty and separation of
church and state as fundamental to American society.
We believe that
any departure from that principle, embodied in the First Amendment, but
which is far more than a mere legal rule, jeopardizes the political and
religious freedom of which America is justly proud.
We believe further
that the American public school system, free and non-sectarian, is one
of the most precious products of American democracy and a unique
contribution to modern civilization, and feel ourselves impelled to
express opposition whenever attempts are made to compromise its
integrity. Finally, but most importantly for us, we as Jews know that,
although the divisiveness which inevitably results when sectarianism
enters the public school adversely affects all children, it is the