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public schools-and, specifically, my resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 1, dealing with that subject.
I have followed the proceedings of the committee and the previous hearings in the House with intense interest because of both my personal concern about the school prayer controversy, and that of my constituency in North Carolina. It is an issue that is very much alive in the press and much alive in the minds and hearts of the people in North Carolina.
There are a number of proposals pending that attempt to return prayer to the public schools. The committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment which supporters feel would remove the bar against individual and group prayer. Legislation has also been introduced that would strip the Federal courts of the authority to hear cases involving voluntary prayer. You have indeed heard eloquent and reasonable arguments from advocates and opponents of both approaches. Those who would formalize prayer in the classroom have pursued their objective with vigor; those who oppose it, with equal conviction. I say, Mr. Chairman, that there is a third approach wherein we may find an accommodation of the other two-that is, those who say we cannot, and those who say we must, pray in the public schools. The answer, contained in my resolution, which I will discuss at some length later, is that we can if we want to.
First, it is necessary, I believe, to clear up some of the misconceptions that exist concerning the Supreme Court's decision regarding prayer in the schools.
We know, of course, that the Court has not ruled out voluntary prayer in the schools. It has stated only that such prayer cannot be required, written, or supervised by the State or its representative; that is, the administrators or the faculties of the public schools. Yet while voluntary prayer is permissible, there has been great difficulty in formulating a recitative prayer, and a prayer period, that do not exceed the limits set by the court.
Second, this misunderstanding of the Court's rulings has created in the minds of many people the idea that the Supreme Court banned prayer in the schools, and in so doing has denied, rather than protected, their rights under the first amendment. The misconception has led to the widespread belief that “God has been expelled from the classroom."
The result has been both understandable and predictable. I have seen poll data which indicate that some 80 percent of Americans believe prayer in the schools should be permitted. That implies, of course, that 80 percent believe it is not permissible. The idea that one is not free to pray wherever and whenever one chooses is offensive to all Americans who cherish our fundamental freedoms, and especially to those who find in our religious tradition a source of great comfort and pride.
This concern has led, I firmly believe, to suggested solutions which are unnecessary and if carried to fruition could be intolerable. I have in mind the proposed constitutional amendment under consideration today. The committee has heard much testimony about this amendment, but I would beg your indulgence of some further thoughts on the subject.
The proposed constitutional amendment strikes at the very foundation of our constitutional form of government. It would compromise that most basic guaranty of our individual rights, the first amendment, which was appended by men of clear vision and noble purpose. That purpose, simply stated, was to guarantee that Government shall in no way control religious thought, speech, or practice. Further, it also guarantees that religion shall not control the state, and through Government impose the religious preferences of one persuasion upon a lesser number who do not completely agree with it. This we call the separation of church and state. It has served both constituencies extremely well.
Mr. Chairman, this constitutional doctrine was not established either easily or by chance. Powerful forces argued against it. I think we have to thank Thomas Jefferson and James Madison for insisting that it be part of our Constitution. Especially Mr. Jefferson, who fought this battle in the Virginia House of Burgesses, which ultimately established his bill of establishing religious freedom. It should be noted that only three accomplishments adorn the grave marker of Mr. Jefferson. That statute is one of them. He asked also to be remembered as author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia.
Permit me to quote from Mr. Jefferson, and from his biographers, some of his observations about freedom and separation of church and State.
From Saul K. Padover's "Jefferson: A Great American's Life and Ideas":
In few things was Jefferson more consistent than in his advocacy of religious liberty, or more resolute than in his hatred of religious tyranny. He went further than those who merely believed in toleration. Mere toleration was a lazy man's creed; it meant indifference toward the political problems involved in the religious question. Toleration, therefore, was not enough. What Jefferson wanted, and ultimately achieved, was liberty-liberty fully protected by the law, to believe or not to believe whatever a man saw fit; liberty of the genuine Protestant variety, for a man and his conscience to care for his soul in his own fashion.
And from Mr. Jefferson's "Notes on Religion," penned shortly after he wrote the Declaration of Independence:
The care of every man's soul belongs to himself. God Himself will not save men against their wills. * I cannot give up my guidance to the magistrates, because he knows no more of the way to Heaven than I do, and is less concerned to direct me right than I am to go right.
Mr. Jefferson in that instance was concerned about the State being in charge of religion. He was equally if not more concerned about the church being in charge of the State. Assailed by the stinging criticism of some of the clergy, he wrote to a friend:
They (the clergy) believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
The last clause of that immortal statement is familiar to everyone who visits the Jefferson Memorial, for it is engraved in the marble there. The basic issue in his time, as in ours, was separation of church and State.
I would not contend, Mr. Chairman, that conditions have not changed since Mr. Jefferson's day. I would submit, however, that our need to be free has not changed; that it took many more years after the first amendment was ratified to establish religious freedom uniformly throughout the States; and that we ought not to surrender 1 inch of the ground which our forebears struggled to gain for themselves and their posterity.
Former Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr., a distinguished constitutional scholar, felt just as strongly as did the Founding Fathers that the separation of church and State must remain absolute, and in 1966 he argued forcefully and long against the Dirksen and Bayh proposals to amend the Constitution so as to reestablish prayer in the classroom. A telling point in Senator Ervin's argument was his observation that the Supreme Court's opinions, as he interpreted them, did not deal with the subject of voluntary prayer. "All they do is to hold that under the establishment of religion clause, the State cannot require religious exercises to be conducted in the public schools,” he said.
Mr. Chairman, these distinguished Americans were absolutely right. If the State were to be given power to make us pray, it would have equal power to stop us from praying. The Constitution declares that the State does not have the power to make us do either.
But the problem remains. The people of America want prayer in the schools, and they believe their Government is prohibiting it.
I would argue that my resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 1, would solve the problem. This resolution confirms one, that the Supreme Court decisions did not prohibit periods of silence for the purpose of private prayer, meditation, contemplation, or introspection, and two, that local school authorities can now provide such periods of silence under the law. I respectfully urge the committee to consider this approach for the following reasons:
First. It would clear up the misconception that the Supreme Court decision of 1962 prohibits prayer in the public schools, and that Government--the Supreme Court-has expelled God from the classroom. The lack of a clear expression on the permissibility of voluntary prayer has had a "chilling” effect on local school boards which, upon passage of the resolution, would receive both guidance and encouragement to provide the opportunity for voluntary prayer in the schools.
Second. It would help restore the public's trust in Government, and in the democratic process, which many have come to doubt as concerns the issue of prayer in the public schools.
Third. It would inspire widespread discussions between students, their parents, and religious leaders of all religions and all denominations as to how the periods of silence" suggested in House Concurrent Resolution 1 should be filled. In my opinion, such healthy discussion among all Americans contains, at the very least, the possibility of an understanding that reaches beyond the temporal and the transitory. Perhaps it would result in a heightened spirit of unity, while maintaining diversity; perhaps a higher awareness of man's relationship to his Creator and to his fellow man; perhaps a higher level of trust, tolerance, and understanding among ourselves.
Fourth. Finally, the passage of this resolution would restore truly voluntary prayer to the public schools, by which the majority might confirm, with no threat to or infringement of the rights of the minority, our Nation's motto: "In God We Trust.
[A copy of House Concurrent Resolution 1, submitted by Representative Neal, follows:
H. Con. Res. 1
[97th Congress, 1st Session)
CONCURRENT RESOLUTION declaring the sense of Congress regarding periods of
silence in the public schools Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress
(1) that the Constitution of the United States does not preclude periods of silence to be used, solely at the discretion of the individual student in public schools, for quiet and private prayer, meditation, contemplation, or introspection, even if these moments are supervised by a school official; and
(2) that public school authorities should recognize the historic importance of religion to our civilization by encouraging such periods of silence. The CHAIRMAN. Congressman Neal, are you advocating in your amendment a period of silence?
Mr. NEAL. Yes, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. You would support this proposed amendment advocated by the administration, I presume, if it was before the-
Mr. Neal. Well, Mr. Chairman, I know that 75 or 80 percent of the people of this country want prayer restored to the public schools. I think that the constitutional amendment is unnecessary. I think that if we were to pass my resolution that it would be clearly unnecessary.
The CHAIRMAN. In other words, you think it is preferable to pass yours?
Mr. Neal. Yes, sir, I do.
The CHAIRMAN. So I presume you wouldn't object if this constitutional amendment were adopted.
Mr. Neal. Well, I have to think long and hard. I think that it could be improved. I think that if in the constitutional amendment you have before you it was made clear that-
The CHAIRMAN. In other words, you haven't made up your mind on that.
Mr. Neal. Well, I am trying to say that I think if it came to a vote I would probably have to vote for it, because I know that the American public wants prayer in the schools. I am just trying to say that I think there is a better way, that it is unnecessary, and that we can accomplish the goal that you, Mr. Chairman, and others that support this amendment want, without passing this amendment, and without running the dangers that I think are inherent in the amendment.
The CHAIRMAN. I believe all this amendment does is provide that no person shall be required by the United States to participate in prayer.
Mr. Neal. Doesn't it attempt to establish prayer?
The CHAIRMAN. They should not be deprived of the opportunity of voluntary prayers.
Mr. Neal. Well, when I say I think it can be improved, it might be improved, although I have not had a chance to-
The CHAIRMAN. Well, the entire wording is this, it's very simple: “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any State to participate in prayer.” In other words, purely voluntary.
Mr. Neal. Well, let me ask this, if I may, of the chairman: why is it necessary?
The CHAIRMAN. Why is what necessary?
The CHAIRMAN. Well, a lot of people feel that it has effectively been prohibited. They feel it is necessary to do this to clarify the situation.
Mr. NEAL. You see, that would have been my feeling also. I think it did not prohibit voluntary prayer, but I think people believe it did. That's why I think my resolution would clarify what the Supreme Court did and make the Constitutional amendment unnecessary.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, under your resolution, you feel, then, as this proposed constitutional amendment says, individuals or groups may pray in schools?
Mr. NEAL. Yes, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Yours is a period of silence as distinguished from the constitutional amendment that says that they can voluntarily pray as individuals or as groups.
Mr. NEAL. Well, under this approach, the school, the school as a representative of the State, would be empowered to set aside periods of silence. The students, of course, who did not pray voluntarily in the schools, would fill those periods of silence-some might pray, some might think, some might meditate. It is differentiated from the idea-
The CHAIRMAN. You wouldn't want to prohibit children from individually praying or in groups praying, would you?
Mr. NEAL. No, sir, my resolution would certainly allow that.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, by your period of silence, how can ney pray aloud if they are going to be silent?
Mr. Neal. Well, I didn't hear you say “aloud” before. I wouldn't mind myself hearing students pray aloud. I am just saying that I don't think the State should write the prayer, that the State should-
The CHAIRMAN. Oh, I agree with that, we agree there should be no mandatory prayer, just a purely voluntary prayer. If one child or a dozen children wanted to get out here and pray just what comes from the heart, then we feel they should be allowed to do it.
Mr. NEAL. Well, I don't disagree with that; in fact, I don't think they are prohibited from doing that now.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, that's the question, though, under the Supreme Court decisions. A lot of people feel that they are prohibited.
At any rate, we are glad to get your views, and I want to thank you for appearing here. I have got to go back over to the Senate now, and I am going to turn this hearing over to the able, scholar