« AnteriorContinuar »
system in our Nation. The most striking evidence of this is the fact that the Massachusetts Board of Education, then headed by Horace Mann, removed sectarian instruction from the schools but prescribed a program of—and I quote—“daily Bible readings, devotional exercises, and the constant inculcation of the precepts of morality.” Thus the very founder of the American public school system favored the inclusion of religious devotions in the curricula of these institutions.
More and more American parents are being convinced that public schools which are given the task of driver education, sex education, physical education, and family education should also be concerned with the skill so indispensable to human growth-the art and power of prayer.
The public school is the central educational institution of our civilization. It has the awesome responsibility of educating the next generation to carry on the great ideas and structures of the American culture. It cannot, at its peril and ours, neglect to articulate and promote "our supreme principle,” which is a phrase taken from the writings of Martin Buber, probably the greatest Jewish philosopher of our century. I believe that the decisions of the Supreme Court barring religious expression has weakened our public schools as well as our culture. We have, therefore, no recourse except the amendment before us.
What I have said, and what I have written in the record, which you will read later I hope, is the view of many Jewish citizens in our country. However, it would be misleading and you will certainly hear from others very soon-to deny that the majority of Jewish organizations oppose this amendment. I believe these views to be misguided. They are based on the view that Jews, a small minority of the American people, will be coerced into participating in religious exercises in the framework of religious traditions which they do not accept. Though there is some merit in this apprehension, I believe it is not enough to oppose the intent of the framers of this amendment which is before us for discussion and analysis.
First of all, the proposed amendment expressly denies coercion of anyone to pray. If Jewish parents or atheist or Catholic parents do not wish to permit their children to join in school prayers, they are protected under this amendment. The courts have decided to protect, for example, those students whose religious convictions make it impossible for them to recite the pledge of allegiance. We should and do respect such rights of conscience. We do not, on this basis, prohibit the recitation of the pledge of allegiance in our schools.
We would hope that school boards around the country should be encouraged and assisted in formulating prayers which could be recited by the vast majority of the children and not only those that belong to a certain religious tradition or church or synagogue. And I would hope that the committee encourages local school boards, if this amendment is passed, to use their intelligence and their good will in doing that.
These kinds of prayers should be crafted so as to take into consideration the feelings and beliefs of Jewish school children as well as other minorities in the population. We should recognize that the strengthening of the religious sentiment in our culture is of such great importance to all of us that the impossibility of some of us, because of reasons of conscience, to participate should not be used as a reason to deny to the others their opportunities to exercise their conscience.
As the Supreme Court has stated, and as quoted frequently here: "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” That, of course, applies to all of us, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. We should make every effort and attempt to infuse our public institutions with religious sentiment which is common to our various traditions. If we cannot do so, we must realize that solutions will not satisfy everybody, but, in a democratic society, as the great Protestant thinker, Reinhold Niebuhr, pointed out: we try to find provisional solutions to insoluble problems.
And I therefore think that this is a solution to the question of the infusion and the freedom to pray in our public institutions, especially our public schools. And I would therefore urge the passage of this amendment, both to the Senate and the House and to the various States.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Senator DENTON. Thank you very much, Rabbi Siegel. Before I go to Mr. Murphy, I note the presence of the senior Senator from Alabama, my friend, Senator Howell Heflin, and would request that if he has an opening statement, he might make it now.
STATEMENT OF SENATOR HOWELL HEFLIN Senator HErlin. Although I don't have a prepared opening statement, I am interested in this issue. It is an issue, I think, that is important to the Nation. From the very beginning, prayer has been an important aspect in the development of this Nation. Most of us know the story about Benjamin Franklin, during the convention held to draft our Constitution. There was a lot of bickering, and the delegates couldn't get anything done. He came forward with the suggestion that each session of the Constitutional Convention be opened with a word of prayer. Following that, in each session it seemed there were more harmonious agreements, working arrangements, and relationships between the Founding Fathers.
I think the key here is that we must have the element of voluntariness, or voluntary prayer. And this is the key, as we study various amendments, various proposals, we must never lose sight of the fact that the word "voluntary" is the keyword, and it has to be interpreted to be truly voluntary.
And I am interested in studying the proposed language, its applications and various scenarios that might develop, in order to see that we do have voluntary prayer, if such proposals or amendments are adopted.
Senator DENTON. Thank you very much, Senator Heflin. We will proceed to Mr. Murphy, the Deputy Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus, New Haven, Conn.
Mr. MURPHY. Senator Denton, it's a pleasure to be here and see you again. I have submitted a prepared statement, though it's not my own, and I may or may not allude to it specifically in my remarks to this committee. The prepared statement that I have filed is an editorial comment that will appear in the August issue of Columbia magazine, which is the official organ of the Knights of Columbus, and I can safely say reflects the views of if not all then the vast majority of that organization, which in the United States alone comprises upward of 1 million active members plus their families, their spouses, and children.
It's because we are a family-oriented organization that we are so concerned with this proposed amendment to the Constitution. I share fully Rabbi Siegel's concern, and indeed the concern of some Jews who may not agree with this constitutional amendment, that it might be the opening wedge to imposing on minority groups forms of prayer that would be unacceptable to them.
But I think even a casual reading of the proposed amendment to the Constitution suggests no formal prayer. It simply underlines, underscores, what is implicitly contained in the first amendment to the Constitution, that nothing shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions.
I had my own private thoughts about the wisdom or folly of a court striking down a particular prayer, even though voluntary, that was to be recited in the public school. But I am simply appalled at a decision which says that young people, on their own motion, cannot be permitted to come to a school before it opens in the morning and carry on privately prayer of their own choosing within that group. To me that is an absolutely unfathomable anomaly in the educational system of our country.
Rabbi Siegel pointed out that in his tradition, and I am sure it is the tradition of all rational people, or one that all rational people would subscribe to, that there are three parts to learning: learning the Law, and observing the teaching of God and the things that pertain to God-and He is a reality, whether we believe it or notand, finally, teaching our young people to carry out good works. I know I have not quoted the rabbi exactly—it's a free paraphrasebut I think it contains the substance of his views.
I share the view of every good American citizen that we ought not to have an establishment of religion. I, too, am a member of a minority, albeit a large one, but if there is one thing I would abhor it is an establishment in this country. Other countries have managed it and managed it nicely; indeed, it may be said that the English and the Canadians have managed it far better than we, where there is an established religion in the form of the Church of England or its counterpart in other possessions of England, and yet they manage to teach the things that pertain to God in their schools and do it quite successfully without violence to the views and sensibilities of minorities.
Mr. Chairman, I heartily support the adoption of this Senate Joint Resolution 199, and can tell you that all of our members will take an active part in seeing to the passage of this amendment.
Thank you very much for your time.
Senator DENTON. Thank you very much, Mr. Murphy. Mr. Dugan is the director of the National Association of Evangelicals, and I invite him to make his statement now.
Mr. DUGAN. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much both for the hearing and for the opportunity for us to testify. I am Robert Dugan of the National Association of Evangelicals. I also have submitted a written testimony which I would like to have included in the record, where it will be helpful for our time if I limit myself to those comments that are on paper.
Having said that, let me digress for just a second to comment that exactly 2 years ago today I flew to Atlanta to appear on a nationally televised broadcast with Madeline Murray O'Hare to debate the subject of school prayer. Providentially, I believe, I met in the National Airport 3 hours before going on television Bill Murray, who was referred to just a few minutes ago by Senator Helms, and it is quite fascinating to discover who are the friends and the foes of school prayer, as it was that night, with a family even divided between themselves.
On behalf of the National Association of Evangelicals, I want to applaud the President for initiating the effort to restore religious freedoms which have been eroded by the courts. My testimony will, first, focus on the need for a constitutional amendment to return to the original meaning of the first amendment by restoring a balance between the establishment and free exercise clauses; second, support the basic concept of Senate Joint Resolution 199; and, third, offer for the consideration of this committee a suggested change in language to strengthen the proposed amendment.
And, indeed, that last purpose may have anticipated Senator Heflin's express desire to safeguard the voluntary nature of any praying done in our schools.
Americans are generally united on the subject of school prayer. By majorities of about three-fourths, they endorse the concept of voluntary group prayer in the Nation's public schools. Why?
In the Engel case, the Supreme Court banned from public schools as unconstitutional both Government-sponsored prayers and the devotional reading of the Bible. If interpreted narrowly, those decisions would not necessarily have proven harmful, but in practice the lower courts and school administrators have carried the spirit of those decisions further than was warranted. Those who categorically oppose prayer in schools have been successful in virtually eradicating any kind of religious reference in many public schools.
Let me cite just a few examples. In the Lubbock case, the court held that a school system's permission for students to conduct voluntary meetings for educational, religious, moral, or ethical purposes on school property, before or after regular class hours, violated the establishment clause. In another case, a school district's decision to allow student-initiated prayer at voluntary school assemblies unsupervised by teachers was struck down on establishment clause grounds. And in Stein v. Oshinsky, a school principal's order forbidding kindergarten students from saying grace before meals on their own initiative was upheld.
These cases, as well as a host of others, reveal a propensity of the courts to view every form of religious activity solely in establishment clause terms. The President's proposed amendment recognizes the urgent need to return to the original meaning of the first amendment by restoring more of a balance between the establishment and free exercise clauses.
Opponents of the President's initiative have been quick to observe that the responsibility for religious training rests with the home and the church. We couldn't agree more. But their truncated analysis fails to address the problem of millions of school-age young people who, for lack of any meaningful acknowledgement of God in the public schools, are left to conclude that the State recognizes no power higher than its own. Creation of such an impression is not in keeping with the religious heritage bequeathed us by our Founding Fathers, with long standing national tradition, and with the desire of the great majority of our citizens today.
This committee faces a grave responsibility to respond to the wishes of the American people, who in their inherent wisdom realize the need for a change.
Senate Joint Resolution 199 would constructively amend the Constitution. This amendment steers a wise course by not conferring an affirmative right to prayer in the public schools. It would simply remove any constitutional obstacle to voluntary prayer. In doing so, it would meet the problem we have indicated, the need to shift the focus from the establishment clause to the free exercise clause in order that the public schools be permitted to accommodate the free exercise of religion.
In an effort to live up to the more severe constraints of courtimposed neutrality, our public schools have avoided even acknowledging the existence of God. This public school environment, which in effect makes God irrelevant, is weighted with unspoken values. It subtly makes man the measure of all things—the very definition of secular humanism. The distressing irony is that the Supreme Court has recognized secular humanism as one of the nontheistic religions. If we are to avoid establishing humanism in the public schools, there has to be some opportunity for opposing views to be heard. Today Government neutrality is a myth.
Justice Potter Stewart has proven to be a prophet. As he said in his powerful dissent in the Abington v. Schempp case:
(A) compulsory state educational system so structures a child's life that if religious exercises are held to be an impermissible activity in schools, religion is placed at an artificial and state-created disadvantage. Viewed in this light, permission of such exercises for those who want them is necessary if the schools are truly to be neutral in the matter of religion. And a refusal to permit religious exercises thus is seen, not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism ...
Opponents of the proposed amendment, in asserting that religion belongs only in the home and church, overlook this reality. The proposed amendment would redress the present lack of neutrality by permitting voluntary prayer in our public schools.
While endorsing the proposed amendment, we would like to submit for the committee's consideration some language we believe would strengthen it. The substance of the changes we suggest is indicated by underscoring in the following version of the amendment:
Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit prayer or other religious activity in public schools or other public institutions. Neither the United States nor any State shall require any person to participate in prayer or other religious activity, or influence the form or content of any prayer or other religious activity.
This version of the proposed amendment would expand its scope by permitting a variety of voluntary religious activity-prayer, Bible reading, religious clubs, religious instruction, and so forth. But it would restrict the potential operation of the President's