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irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court... the people will
have ceased to be their own rulers."
I believe that the First Amendment to the Constitution was
all the guarantee of religious liberty we needed, until the activist Supreme Court of the past two decades tortured its clear cut meaning.
The Federal Court System has in our day become the unelected
despotic oligarchy which Thomas Jefferson feared.
Leaving aside historic and legal precedent, may we consider three practical reasons why we need a constitutional amendment to
assure prayer in our public life:
First, the decline in morality has crippled public education
in many parts of America. Since 1962 many of our public schools have
become jungles. Some teachers show evidence of nervous disorders
associated with battle fatigue. Drug use is epidemic. Large numbers
of children as young as ten and eleven are confirmed alcoholics. Over
600,000 babies are born out of wedlock to teenage mothers each year.
Of the three million new cases of syphilis and gonorrhea over half are
teenagers. A new veneral disease, Herpes Simplex, thought to be incurable,
has infected an estimated 20,000,000 Americans, many of them teenagers
and young adults.
Since 1962 the average of the Scholastic Aptitude Scores among the nation's high school students has declined steadily every single year without exception. Many high school students are functional
unable to read a newspaper or to compute the correct
change from simple purchases at a supermarket.
In short without moral restraint there can be no effective
Secondly, the functioning of a free society depends at its core on the inner moral restraints of its people. If a people lose their belief in God and their belief in the concept of ultimate rewards and punishment, they will refuse to practice the voluntary restraint and sacrifice needed to preserve freedom.
I assure this committee that the $285 billion lost in taxes
to the underground economy and the incessant demands on government by
selfishly motivated special interest groups are just the beginning of
what we will see if this nation continues its turn away from God and
His standards. Soon America will face a choice between anarchy or a
dictatorship from the right or the left. As Benjamin Franklin put it,
"we will either be governed by God or we will be ruled by tyrants."
Thirdly, the American people overwhelmingly want a reversal of the anti-religious court rulings of the past twenty years and the restoration of prayer and faith in our schools.
My personal polls made from a sampling of people in 2700
American communities indicates that 96% of those responding favored a Constitutional Amendment to restore religious liberties. The Gallup
and Harris polls have shown that approximately 73% of Americans favor an amendment to restore prayer in the public schools.
Some religious leaders have appeared before this committee in opposition to this amendment. I am convinced that these church officials do not speak for the rank and file of the American people.
According to George Gallup, Jr. 94% of the people in America
believe in God. Without question those who believe must give the 6%
who do not believe freedom to speak, to write, to broadcast, to disagree.
But I submit to this committee, I do not think that the believing majority owes any obligation to the disbelieving 6% minority to dismantle our entire
public affirmation of faith in God, nor do we owe this 6% minority an
absolute veto over a Constitutional Amendment which would reaffirm our
freedom to address Almighty God in our schools and public places.
The Congress as the elected representatives of the people has
been given the constitutional mandate to propose amendments to the Constitution; to limit the appellate jurisdiction of the Federal Court System; and to carry out the legislative function of the federal government.
I respectfully urge this committee to use all of its
constitutional powers to curb the intrusion of the federal judiciary into the free exercise of religion in this country, and as a first step to approve Senate Joint Resolution 199.
Senator East. Because I need to go to the floor to vote, we shall proceed with testimony under the direction of our chief counsel, James McClellan. He will take the witnesses' testimony until other Senators arrive.
The next group appearing this morning is a panel consisting of Mr. Willard H. McGuire-I would appreciate his coming forwardand Mrs. Joanne Goldsmith. Mr. McGuire is president of the National Education Association, and Mrs. Goldsmith is executive director for the National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty, both very accomplished and distinguished people in their areas.
I would like to welcome them this morning. I would also like to encourage the remaining panelists here to be as brief as they can, and you may rest assured that your written remarks will be made a part of the record.
I would like to thank personally each and every one of you for coming, and for being patient with the interruptions and the problems that always seem to beset us around here in the Senate from Tuesday through Thursday.
Mr. McClellan, if you will receive the testimony, I will be most appreciative.
Mr. McCLELLAN. We have to clear this room by 2 o'clock for another hearing, so I am going to have to ask each witness to try and confine his or her statement to 6 minutes, with the understanding, of course, that your full statement, if you have a prepared one, will be put in the record.
We have a light system here we use. The green light means go, the yellow light means caution, and the red light means that your time is up.
So, Mr. McGuire, if you would begin first. STATEMENTS OF WILLARD H. McGUIRE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL
EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, WASHINGTON, D.C., AND JOANNE GOLDSMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COALITION FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Mr. McGUIRE. Thank you very much, Mr. McClellan. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to have the full testimony, and I will just give a summary.
My name is Willard McGuire, and I am president of the National Education Association. NEA represents some 1.7 million teachers and education support personnel throughout the United States.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to present the NEA's views on this most significant subject of prayer in the Nation's schools. We are especially pleased to be able to voice our opinion on school prayer, since it is our members, the Nation's public school teachers, who are in many ways at the center of this controversial debate. It is they who, if Senate Joint Resolution 199 passes the Congress and is ratified by the States, will become the conduits and spiritual guides who will essentially be forced into leading their students in daily prayer in the classroom. As such, it is my mandate, as spokesperson for NEA members, to express their strong objections to this constitutional amendment calling for prayer in the schools.
At the most recent meeting of the NEA's highest governing body, our representative assembly, held last month, its more than 7,500 elected delegates reaffirmed a resolution first passed by that same body in 1978, and is in the attached testimony. And I quote:
The National Education Association believes that the constitutional provisions on the establishment of and the free exercise of religion in the First Amendment require that there be no sectarian practices in the public school program.
The Association opposes the imposition of sectarian practices in the public school program and urges its affiliates to do the same.
Mr. Chairman, it is this resolution which holds the basis for NEA opposition to a constitutional amendment mandating prayer in the schools.
The NEA supports the 1962 Supreme Court decision in Engel versus Vitale on prayer in the public schools, a ruling that prohibited neither prayer nor Bible reading in the schools. What the decision did prohibit was the State sponsorship of prayer in the schools, or, to put it more bluntly, mandatory “voluntary” prayer.
That 1962 Supreme Court decision, and numerous lower Federal court rulings since then, have underscored the separation of church and State in this country, one of the founding principles on which this great Nation has been built. Indeed, the very first words of the Constitution's first amendment are emphatic: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The 14th amendment carries the same restriction to State and local governments. And the Supreme Court has consistently and unequivocally upheld this wall of separation between church and State. It is clear, then, that these interpretations mean that the State, through its schools, must not sponsor religion.
Yet what President Reagan, in proposing the amendment, as well as other proponents of school prayer, are attempting to do, flies in the face of the courts' rulings, and, we believe, is unconstitutional
Another key point on which the NEA opposes the adoption of a constitutional amendment on school prayer rests in its strong belief in the diversity of America. For example, currently all students are free to silently worship in whatever form they choose in the classroom. Whether the students belong to the Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim faiths, or any other number of religious minority groups in the country, their rights to their own prayer are not infringed upon in any way. If so-called voluntary group prayer becomes the law of the land, what becomes of this diversity? Who chooses what prayers shall be recited? And what happens to the current freedom to worship through one's own chosen prayer?
In another theme along these same lines, conservative columnist James Kilpatrick put it succinctly in a recent article published in the Baltimore Sun, and I quote:
... One problem with institutional prayer parallels the problem one often encountered with institutional food. The group prayers that would be sanctioned by this amendment would be canned peas-bland, innocuous, inoffensive recitations, perfunctory rituals devoid of spiritual meaning. Heartfelt prayer demands something more.
On top of the fact that this group prayer will undoubtedly be innocuous, it must be remembered that it is our members who will lead the prayer. But asking teachers, deeply religious or not, to stand at the head of a classroom to lead a prayer chosen by others is an infringement of their religious rights. In addition, as with students, teachers who choose not to pray are put into a precarious position. If they choose to exercise their constitutional rights and leave the classroom during prayer, there will most likely be a price
The NEA asks why there is a need to put students' and teachers' principles on the line when schools may use the Bible or other religious books as source books in religion classes; may offer a course in the Bible as literature and history; may offer instruction in comparative religion; may be rented in off-hours to religious groups. In addition, under current law, students may be allowed to leave school premises to receive religious instruction, and may study the history of religion and its role in civilization.
In closing, I urge this committee to reject the constitutional amendment on school prayer, and, by doing so, to keep religious diversity and liberty in its high position of importance in American society.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to be here today.
Mrs. GOLDSMITH. Thank you, Mr. McClellan. I am Joanne Goldsmith, executive director of the National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty. We call ourselves National Pearl. Our member organizations are dedicated to preserving religious liberty and the principle of separation of church and state and to maintaining the integrity and viability of public education. Our primary interest is in the protection of the guarantees of the First Amendment to the Constitution. We believe firmly that separation of church and state is good for schools and good for religion.
Thus, we oppose mandatory, organized prayer in the public schools. We think that prayer without a faith content deliberately planned to be inoffensive would be meaningless. Children are quick to notice that a prayer without faith is like cake without icing and would be certain to aid in alienating children from real commitment to faith. On the other hand, sectarian prayers lead to different problems. There are a lot of communities in this country where a non-Christian, a religious humanist, an agnostic or an atheist would find his children subjected to religious exercises and prayers quite at odds with his own beliefs. What happens in the Catholic community to the Baptist child, in the Jewish community to the Muslim's children. We are fortunate in this nation to have a diverse religious community. In that diversity is strength. Respect for the differences in our religious community is not going to be taught through mandatory organized schoolroom prayer. Rather the conflict between classroom teacher, the authority figure, and students will be the focus, and the results would be less than desirable for both religion and for public schools. It is inappropriate to ask or require our public school children to respond to the symbolism of public prayer. That kind of symbolism will not solve our many universal national problems.