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children of minority faiths
our children, in other words
injured most severely.
Our opposition to the proposed amendment is based fundamentally
on a deep commitment to religious values and to the principle that such
values must be espoused freely as
an act of individual conscience.
people of all faiths, the purpose of prayer is spiritual communion with
The home, church and synagogue are the proper, time-honored
places which provide the appropriate setting for a communion with God.
There, religious yearning and the needs of the soul can find
Mechanical recitation of prayers in public schools,
particularly prayers composed by government officials with a view
toward popular acceptance, degrades these true religious experiences.
It is harmful to the cultivation of the religious spirit.
Supporters of this Amendment often erroneously complain that the
Supreme Court's decision has banned prayer from the public schools and
thus denies students who wish to pray freedom of religion.
example, Martha Rountree in a letter on behalf of the "Leadership
Foundation" states that "our Supreme Court said children could not pray
in public schools.
In fact, they went so far as
to say that children
could not even be given quiet time so that they could say silent
The White House, which should know better, has issued a
memorandum (hereafter White House Memo) which states
the Amendment is necessary in order to permit, for example "voluntary
prayer before meals." According to a recent Gallup Poll, the single
largest reason why Americans support the amendment is because "people
should have the opportunity to pray when they wish to."
that prayer is forbidden in the public schools is a distortion of
applicable constitutional principles and what the Supreme Court
the lower courts
All that is prohibited by the Constitution is officially sanctioned prayer. Purely private prayer, such as saying grace or the
like has always been permitted.
We believe that, unless disruptive of
school routine, such prayer is constitutionally protected.
unaware of any instance in which school officials have attempted to
prohibit such purely private prayer.
In the unlikely event that school
offficials bar private prayer, we would be quick to join in any legal challenge to that practice. The simple fact is that this is a
used to drum up support for an amendment that will destroy
the First Amendment.
The Constitution, Majority Rule
and Minority Rights
Whether the Constitution shou ld be amended to permit prayer in
the public schools is, without more,
an important issue, meriting the
most careful consideration, particularly since it is a portion of the
Bill of Rights which is in issue. Indeed over 500 constitutional
profic lawyer lawyers have already signed a statement (attached as Appendix B)
circulated by us urging that the Bill of Rights should not be tampered
Here we believe there is an even more important principle at
that of constitutional protection for the rights of
The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, in the
now classic words of Justice Jackson:
... to withdraw certain subjects from the
West Virginia Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 179 U.S. 624, 638 (1943).
Many of the Founders believed that a bill of rights was
unnecessary because the rights protected by those amendments were
natural rights, not subject to defeasance by government.
fortunately did not prevail, and restrictions on the powers of
majorities were written into our fundamental law.
The Bill of Rights, then, are a self-imposed limit on the power of majorities. Proponents of this amendment seem unwilling to
acknowledge that there ought to be restrictions
even self imposed
on the rights of majorities to do as they please in the public
They seem to be saying "these are our schools. Since we are
the majority, and this is a democracy we will do what we wish in those
schools, athough you may excuse yourself if you wish."
The difficulty we have as a minority group with this argument is
that, no matter how nicely phrased, it means that there are to be
officially recognized "insiders" and "outsiders"
and no matter how
much proponents speak of the Judeo-Christian tradition, we know that we
No matter how minimal the penalty for being an
outsider, the fact remains that a person so branded ceases to be an
equal member of society, participating as of right and not by
The willingness of the administration to suggest that only
theists are worthy of constitutional protection (see p. 19, infra)
Surely, there can be tyrannies of a minority.
And surely in a
democracy minorities must ordinarily bow to the will of the majority.
But until now we as
a society have accepted the notion that amongst
those areas where the minority need not submit to the rule of the
majority is the non-establishment of religion.
No compelling need has,
or can, be shown to justify a change in that wise and beneficient
policy which has served this country so well.
of course, a majority of Americans say they support "voluntary"
We doubt that most of those Americans would support the
present amendment if they understood all of its implications. And we
recognize that members of this Committee will be under heavy pressure
to support this proposal
although we are certain that the pressures
will not be one sided.
But we believe that the public and members of
this Committee will recognize that this amendment will imperil one of
See, for example, the quote from Justice Story cited at p. 16.
this society's most glorious traditions
government neutrality toward
It is sometimes argued that prayer recitation and Bible reading
some how encourage a state of national and personal morality.* This
argument was described as "false both in theory and practice"
testimony given to this Committee 18 years ago by Rabbi Joachim Prinz.
He said in that at that time:
Religion is not a device to be used by the
This argument for the amendment re
rests on the fact
When I was educated in German public schools,
Did that program effectively teach morality
to the German people? If it did it would be For example, the "Leadership Foundation," referred to above at p. 4, has urged its supporters to write Congress as follows in upport of school prayer:
We need to get drugs, sex, immorality and disrespect for laws out of our schools and God back in our schools.
Then maybe our schools will be able to once again teach our children how to read, write and spell.
difficult to explain the rise of Hitler and
I might add, though not from personal
The Myth of "Voluntary" School Prayer
The arguments in support of this proposal, by President Reagan
and others, depart in many ways from reality. Perhaps the most
egregious error is the assumption that it is possible to make prayer a
matter of free choice for school children when it is written, chosen,
organized, conducted or sponsored by teachers, other school officials,
or even the state legislature.* Sponsors of the proposal recognize,
of course, that any proposal that expressly permitted school
authorities to require pupils to participate in a particular form of
worship would impair freedom of religion. However, they give this hard
fact only token recognition. They say that the second sentence of the
proposed amendment effectively bars any such coercion.
In the words of
the "Questions and Answers on the President's Proposed Voluntary School
Prayer Amendment," issued by the White House on May 6, any pupil "can
simply refuse to participate."
The State of Alabama recently enacted as law which permits "willing" students to offer the following prayer:
We acknowledge you as the Creator and Supreme
The reference to prayer "In the name of our Lord" makes this prayer, which would be permissible under the proposal before this Committee, unacceptable to Jews.