« AnteriorContinuar »
Public schools have been asked to do many things. Surely the teaching of religion should not be one of its duties.
Several years ago, Leo Pfeffer, eminent constitutional and legal scholar, appeared before this committee. He was our legal counsel and has since retired. And I would like to take just a few minutes to pick out a few of his reasons for opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment. I will just be picking out some things from the prepared statement.
Fiction No. 2. There is only one Bible and all prayers are addressed to the same God. Therefore, it makes no difference which version of the Bible or what form of prayer is used in the public schools.
The fact. No controversy in human history has caused more persecution, oppression, and bloodshed than the question of what is the true word of God and which is the correct way to worship Him or Her. The victims of the Inquisition were persons who revered the same Bible and worshipped the same God as the Inquisitors; they suffered only because they worshipped in a different way. Unfortunately, it cannot be said that human nature has changed so dramatically in the intervening hundreds of years as to make religious persecution now unthinkable. It might now be less blatant, less brutal, but subtle persecution is persecution nonetheless.
Fiction No. 3. If a child has the right to be excused from participating in Bible reading or prayer recitation, there can be no valid objection to the practice.
Fact. There is a delusion of voluntarism. It is belied by history and recognized as a fiction by countless educators and other persons who know how children think and act. There is nothing voluntary about compulsory school attendance laws.
Finally, fiction 4. The Supreme Court has forbidden the mention of God or the Bible or religion in the public schools.
I think the most important thing for you to do is simply read the decision that we have been talking about this morning. I think they would answer the questions that have been commented on.
I would simply say, in closing, that the first amendment is based on the premise that the separation of church and state is best for the church and best for the state, and secures freedom for both.
For two centuries this assumption has proved valid. Religion today enjoys in the United States the highest degree of esteem, reverence, and influence anywhere in the world. It was the First Amendment which brought this about. The author of that amendment, James Madison, placed himself firmly in opposition to any impairment of its basic principles, no matter how slight, "because, he said, “it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution.
Retaining this "prudent jealousy," the American people have treated the Bill of Rights as unamendable. They have viewed it as a declaration of fundamental principles of government that must remain inviolate if our country is to remain free.
By rejecting this proposed amendment that is the subject of this hearing, this committee will protect from challenge the basic liberties that promise freedom to all Americans.
We thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning.
11-323 O - 83 - 19
Mr. McCLELLAN. Thank you, Mrs. Goldsmith. Two questions I have.
Mr. McGuire, you mentioned that the NEA resolution comes out against sectarian practice. What exactly does the NEA mean by "sectarian practice"? Do you mean a specific religious sect?
Mr. McGUIRE. Certainly it would mean a prayer that produced a certain religious flavor, sectarian to the extent of Christian as opposed to Jewish or Buddhist or the rest. Or it could very much in a community be one particular Christian denomination to the exclusion of others.
Mr. McCLELLAN. The reason I ask that question is because in the Engel v. Vitale case the prayer that was used and that was the focus of contention was a nonsectarian prayer; in fact, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish members of the clergy combined together to write the prayer, and it was not regarded by them as being preferential to any particular religious sect. A prayer that simply invoked the Almighty Himself without any further reference to any specific Protestant, or Catholic, or Jewish doctrine, is that still, in your estimation, a sectarian practice?
Mr. MCGUIRE. Yes, the part of that that was in the Engel v. Vitale was the mandatory part of that. An innocuous prayer, in my opinion, is not a prayer at all-a prayer must be a heartfelt prayer of need and of faith. So there were two parts, really, to that one part, of course, was the mandatory, which is the strongest part of our objection, and the other part is that almost any words you choose are sectarian in nature. Granted, the New York one was quite innocuous, and that would hardly make it a prayer at all.
So our objection is twofold: mandatory, for the most part, and sectarian, because it's very difficult to write a prayer that isn't sectarian.
Mr. McCLELLAN. Suppose it was simply a voluntary prayer, and those who wished to join in were free to do so, and those who wished to excuse themselves were free to do that also, and the prayer simply said: Thank you, God, for this lunch we have had today.
Is that a sectarian practice, according to the NEA resolution?
Mr. McGUIRE. Yes, I believe it is. There is a second part to that that is of very strong concern. Although the amendment says free to participate or not to participate, anyone who has been close to a school situation realizes very much the peer pressures that are put on to young people who either do or do not participate, depending what the norm turns out to be. And then the employment pressures that are put on the teacher, who is supposedly free to participate or not to participate, to lead or not to lead-there can be many pressures that are put on by the employer, just as there are pressures on the young people from their peers that just are not healthy and are not conducive to a good educational system.
Mr. McCLELLAN. So it is primarily the compulsion that seems to concern you most rather than the content of the prayer?
Mr. MCGUIRE. Yes, certainly the compulsion factor is the overriding one. However, it is also the difficulty of not being sectarian within the Christian domain, and then certainly the whole concern of the diversity that we have, and especially more now in our country with the influx of immigrants of Buddhist and Muslim beliefs, and so on.
Mr. McCLELLAN. I gather from your statement also, Mrs. Goldsmith, that you share this view that it is the compulsory aspect of the prayer in the public school that concerns you most?
Mrs. GOLDSMITH. It certainly concerns us greatly.
Mr. McCLELLAN. Well, let me ask you this, then. Would you also be opposed to compulsory sex education in schools?
Mrs. GOLDSMITH. My organization does not have a position on compulsory sex education. There is, of course, through school boards, there is sex education in schools, and parents have an opportunity to participate in the evaluation of materials and choose to allow their children to participate or not. I think that is a slightly different circumstance than prayer in public schools.
Mr. MCCLELLAN. Is that the position of the NEA also that compulsory sex education is fine, but compulsory prayers or prayers even of a voluntary nature are inherently compulsory?
Mr. McGUIRE. We favor sex education in the schools, that there be a good program from kindergarten through 12 of sex education, but the compulsory end of it is a matter where the parents themselves have a right in the public school system to have their children not participate in sex education.
Mr. MCCLELLAN. Has the NEA taken a position against compulsory sex education?
Mr. McGUIRE. We favor that there be a sex education course, a comprehensive sex education course, in the schools, and not from a compulsory standpoint; we believe it should be there, and then if the parents should choose not to have their children involved in it, that would be their own choice.
Mr. McCLELLAN. I thank you both. I'm sorry, we have to move along to other witnesses. Thank you for coming.
Mr. McGUIRE. Thank you. [The prepared statements and submissions of Mr. McGuire and Mrs. Goldsmith follow:)
PREPARED STATEMENT OF WILLARD MCGUIRE
and Members of the Committee,
my name is Willard
McGuire, and I am president of the National Education Association
The NEA represents some 1.7 millions teachers and educa
tional support personnel throughout these United States.
I thank you for this 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 controversy.
is they who, if S.J. 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 constitu
tional amendment calling for prayer in the schools.
At the most recent meeting of the NEA's highest governing body,
its Representative Assembly, held last month, its more than 7.500
elected delegates reaffirmed a resolution first passed by that same
body in 1978 (see attached).
"The National Education Association believes that the
"The Association opposes the imposition of sectarian
it is this resolution which holds the basis for
NEA opposition to a constitutional amendment mandating prayer in
The NEA supports the 1962 Supreme Court decision in Engel
v. Vitale on prayer in the public schools, a ruling that prohibited
What the decision
neither prayer nor Bible reading in the schools.
did prohibit was the state sponsorship of prayer in the schools,
to put it rore bluntly, tardatory "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:
make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
teenth Amendment carries the same restriction to state and local
And the Supreme Court has consistently and unequivo
cally 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 advancing 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
President Reagan campaigned and was elected with the supposed
mandate of "getting government off the backs of the American
Yet, his spearheading this effort to return "voluntary
prayer" to the public schools is, in fact, in opposition to this
The VEA also feels that the current attempt to pass an
the Constitution mandating "voluntary" prayer in
the schools is part of a larger move
to change social policy-
a move I might add, supported predominantly by the right wing.
appears that changes in this most precious of human documents
are being sought to dictate social policy.
It may be remembered
that these same forces pushing for social change through the
Constitution have for years had a hands-off attitude toward the
judicial interpretation of law, denouncing it as
"dictate" social policy.
Now, however, "dictating" their social