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PREPARED STATEMENT OF GARY L. JARMIN
Mr. Chairman and other distinguished Senators on the Committee, it is an
honor to submit testimony on behalf of the Project Prayer Coalition.
Project Prayer is a coalition
national leaders and organizations repre
senting the leadership in the nation of those people working to restore
voluntary prayer to public schools.
Our current memhership is 10 and we
expect 150 by the end of next month.
In one concerted effort we are
working to push the school prayer legislation through both Houses of
Congress this session.
We enthusiastically endorse the school praver
amendment introduced by President Reagan and we thank the President for
his initiative and committment to restoring prayer to the public schools.
Recent polls indicate that the people, after twenty years, are ready for
and want prayer restored to the schools.
Public approval of voluntary
school prayer ranges from 69 to 85 per cent of the population. (New York
Times, May 7, 1982)
Another poll has revealed that 75 per cent of the
nopulation want some form of allowance made for prayer in schools and
55 per cent also support a constitutional amendment to allow such prayer.
(The Washington Post, May 22, 1982)
Support for the prayer amendment extends far beyond the conservative or
ganizations which have kept the issue politically alive in the past
several years. This support is due in a large part to the fact that
the elimination of prayer from the schools went beyond protecting non
praying student's rights to abstain, to active denial of rights of praying
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that "Con
gress shall make no law respecting an establishment of rel
on, or pro
hibiting the free exercise thereof...".
The intent of the Framers was
to protect the people's right to the free exercise of religion and
the prohibition on Congress from establishing a national church or
using its influence to prefer one sect over another.
The Supreme Court, beginning with Everson v. Board of Education, 330 V.S. I
(1947), has interpreted the establishment clause as an absolute prohibi
tion on Congress, and the States for that matter, from supporting or
fostering any religious activity. He
e, we have Engle v. Vitale, 370 1.S.
421 (1962) and Abbington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963)
prohibiting voluntary prayer and bible reading in public schools.
These Supreme Court decisions would lead one to believe that Thomas Jeffer
son's "wall of separation between church and state" was high and impregna
But, while Jefferson's statement is a powerful way of summarizing
the effect of the First Amendment, it is clearly neither a complete state
ment nor a substitute for the words of the amendment itself." CRISWOLD,
Absolute is in the Dark--A Discussion of the Approach of the Supreme
Court to Constitutional Questions, 8 Utah L. Rev. 167, 174 (1963).
In a recent article
in the Wall Street Journal (July 22,
"Defending the School Prayer Amendment...", Grover Rees Ill, author of the
original draft of the school prayer amendment, said, the "wall of separa
tion is a myth".
The Framers' prohibition was on the Federal government
not the States.
Furthermore, this prohibition was only to prevent the
establishment of a national church not the recitation of i praver.
200 years Americans have understood this difference.
Fven if one were to assume that the Court's reasoning was correct, tiken
to its logical extreme any reference to or acknowledgement of cod should
he eliminated from public life.
The chaplains in the Congress or even the
military would be unconstitutional and therefore have to be abolished.
coinage engraved with "in God we trust" would be unconstitutional and
therefore have to be changed. Ironically, the very body that has out
lawed voluntary school praver, the Supreme Court, continues to begin cach
session with a prayer, yet this practice tou would have to be stopped
because it also would be unconstitutional.
Opponents to school praver focus their attention on the establishment
clause issue, but the real issue at the heart of the school prayer amendment is the issue of the right to the free exercise of religion.
Since 1947, the Supreme Court decisions have overshadowed this issue.
Today it is illegal for students to say grace before meals at school.
It is illegal to organize or participate in a volutary school prayer
group that meets before or alter school on school premises.
law clearly 18 in violation of the students' right to the free exercise
While it is true that any student may take a few moments
and offer a silent prayer to God any time during the school day, this is
a right shared by the students in the Soviet Union and as President
Reagan has recently said, "public expressions of prayer should have
more legitimacy in the United States than that which exists in an official
ly atheistic and totalitarian country."
The Supreme Court has misinterpreted the First Amendment in history and in
The Court has engaged itself in constitutional revisionism.
In local authorities.
prohibiting voluntary school prayer the Court has gone beyond its jur
isdiction and duty of interpreting laws and succeeded in making laws.
The Court is in fact circumventing the democratic process and accomplish
ing what the Legislature is unable to.
The Tenth Amendment's division of powers between the central government
and the states reserved to the states the power to deal with religious
The First Amendment prohibition, directed only to Congress,
does not restrict church/state relations at the local level and the
practice throughout the history of the nation , until 1962, has been
to allow such decisions to be made by the state and local authorities.
This school prayer amendment will restore to the states and local
authorities this decision making power taken from them by the courts.
It is a concern of some people that the school prayer amendment
will allow for state sanctioned school prayer.
I would like to respond
to that concern.
First, the decisions whether or not
to have a prayer
and what type of prayer will he said should be made by the state and
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It is generally believed that state and local author
ities, as opposed to the Federal courts, are better forums for making
decisione relating to school prayer after weighing factors such as the
desires of the students, parents and teachers along with community inter
este consistent with state law.
Prior to 1962, local school authorities
demonstrated a respect both for religion and diverse views about religion.
Secondly, the amendment guarantees that no one shall be required to
participate in school prayer.
The state cannot mandate participation,
so that at most, a state sponsored prayer could serve only as a guide
line for local decision makers.
I would like to thank and commend Senator Thurmond's initiative and
effort in introducing the school prayer amendment this session and
say that we join Senator Thurmond in his support of President Reagan.
It is my hope that these hearings will be followed by an immediate
on the Senate floor passing the school prayer amendment this
I am confident that state ratification will follow soon after,
for the people have waited twenty years and are ready for voluntary
prayer to be restored to public schools.
[From the Wall Street Journal, July 22, 1982)
DEFENDING THE SCHOOL PRAYER AMENDMENT
(By Grover Rees III) Recently I attended a state college graduation ceremony that began with an invocation by a rabbi and ended with a benediction by a Catholic priest. On the way home I heard a radio commentator denounce President Reagan's proposed constitutional amendment on school prayer. The amendment, the man said, is a radical assault on one of our oldest and most fundamental constitutional principles, the "wall of separation” between government and religion.
The wall of separation is a myth. The record of the debate in Congress on the First Amendment ban against "establishment of religion” clearly indicates that its framers intended only to prohibit the federal government from designating a particular church to which all citizens must give their allegiance and their financial support. For 200 years the participants in the American constitutional consensus have understood the difference between establishing a church and saying a prayer.
They have invoked the aid of God in their legislative sessions, on their coins, in their national anthem, in their courts and—from the very beginning-in their public schools.
In 1962 six justices of the Supreme Court reversed the settled understanding of the meaning of the First Amendment, holding that it was unconstitutional for a school district to permit students to join in a brief nondenominational morning prayer. The Reagan amendment would simply reverse that decision and its progeny. The amendment would not require that prayers be said in public schools, but the decision would be made (as the framers of the Constitution intended it to be made) in local communities rather than in federal courts.
WILL CHOICE OFFEND PEOPLE The arguments advanced by critics of the amendment are the same arguments that convinced the justices in 1962. They tend to show not that school prayer violates the constitution, but that it might be a bad idea.
The central problem with saying prayers in school is that somebody must choose the prayer. If the choice is left to local school authorities, they are free to choose prayers that could offend people. Christian prayers may offend Jewish students; Protestant prayers may offend Catholics, indeed, any prayer directed to a “personal” God may offend a student who believes that the Supreme Being is a “life-force," or that there is no God.
Alternatively, school boards may take it upon themselves to write their own prayers in an effort to avoid offending anyone. Such bureaucratic productions might be bland affirmations of reliance upon a lowest-common-denominator sort of God, a God with no attributes. To parents who wish their children to grow up loving and respecting a real God who is not at all boring, a meaningless prayer or an ugly prayer might be worse than no prayer at all.
Nor do critics of the amendment believe that school prayer will be truly voluntary. Although the Reagan amendment provides that no student may be forced to participate in any prayer to which he objects for any reason, they fear that students will be subliminally coerced into praying, or that they will be forced to listen to prayers with which they do not agree.
To decide whether there ought to be a constitutional rule against prayer in the schools, however, one should consider not only the worst that might happen if prayer is permitted, but also the possible consequences of its prohibition. I am not sure that it is ever possible for an institution to be neutral about a question of fact or value. When the institution is a school and the question is what attitude students will have toward God, it is not at all clear that neutrality is achieved by never mentioning God except in discussions of speculative philosophy and medieval history.
It is frequently observed that schools neither are nor should be merely places where facts are disseminated. Rather, a good school shapes the whole person; it prepares him for life in the world. Between the ages of six and 18-the years in which most of us develop attitudes about religion that will form the matrix for all future experiences and observations-our lives are built around the schools we attend. These schools treat Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Washington, Reagan and Brezhnev as real persons whose ideas and actions matter; only God is hypothetical and contingent. Among the values that are fundamental to our civilization, the public schools attempt more or less successfully to inculcate in their students the