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The wording of article I of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States reads as follows:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Whereas the regents' prayer is nondenominational;
Whereas it does not purport to establish a religion and simply acknowledges the existence of God;
Whereas, the U.S. Supreme Court, in effect, by its ruling, is prohibiting the free exercise of the right of our children and educators to pray in a public place; and
Whereas the right to pray is an integral part of our American heritage: Now, therefore, it is our intent to make known to the Supreme Court of the United States and to the President of the United States that we cannot accept this obvious distortion of our sacred Constitution; and further, that we intend to pursue our cause until the above decision is reversed or a corrective constitutional amendment instituted.
(Resolution 555, dated 1962, follows:) By Councilman O'Neill :
Whereas a recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled against invocation of prayer in the public school system which invokes the name of God;
Whereas in the opinion of this Common Council of the City of Yonkers, in meeting assembled, this decision violates the basic precept upon which this Nation was founded ; and
Whereas if this decision is allowed to remain as a valid concept of our Government the spiritual and therefore integral-principles of our way of life then become meaningless and without foundation : Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the members of the Common Council of the City of Yonkers, representing the vastly overwhelming majority of the people of this city, do hereby petition our representatives in Washington to prepare, submit, and pass the necessary amendments to our Constitution to invalidate this current ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court; and be it further
Resolved, That copies of this resolution be sent to U.S. Senators Jacob K. Javits and Kenneth Keating, to Congressman Robert R. Barry, to Congressman Emanuel Celler, chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, and to John F. Kennedy, President of the United States. Adopted : July 5, 1962.
JOHN S. MAHER, City Clerk. THE VILLAGE OF TUCKAHOE. (The petition follows:) We, the undersigned citizens of the United States of America, hereby call upon the President and Congress of the United States of America to proceed as rapidly as possible to amend the Constitution of the said United States of America to provide a positive and unchallengeable guarantee that every American citizen has the right to a belief in God and to practice the worship of God at such times and in such places as he may desire.
We further advocate the immediate institution of proceedings to impeach and remove those Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court whose recent decision outlawed the free practice of voluntary worship of God in the schools of the State of New York.
In witness whereof, we have placed our hands this 18th day of July 1962.
Senator KEATING. I always welcome the views of my constituents, as I know do all members. I am disturbed in this case, however, by the bitter and highly emotional character of many of the letters I have received on both sides of the issue. Without question, the Court's ruling has had a very divisive effect on the American community, has stirred deep and virulent emotions and engendered a clamor of confused and dangerous proposals.
There is a certain irony in this reaction. Mr. Justice Douglas, in his concurring opinion in the school prayer case, indicates that the philosophy of the first amendment is that "if government interferes in matters spiritual, it will be a divisive force." It is evident, however, that the Court decision which he justified on this basis has been far more divisive than the practice it struck down.
The confusion which this decision has caused both among those who agree and disagree with its reasoning, is understandable. The Supreme Court's prior interpretations of the first amendment have not been a model of consistency. But in past years, the Court has held that there was no conflict between the first amendment and the transportation of students to religious or parochial schools at public expense, or the release of children during the regular school day for religious instruction. These past decisions have rejected the view that state and religion need be "aliens to each other-hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly.”
In the Zorach case, which upheld the New York released time system, the majority opinion declared : We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.
The Court went on to saywe find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.
It is difficult to reconcile such statements with a determination that the recital of a concededly nondenominational prayer under what were conceded to be noncompulsory conditions, violates the prohibition in the first amendment against the establishment of a religion. This difficulty is enhanced by the admission in Justice Black's opinion for the majority that the New York regent's prayerdoes not amount to a total establishment of one particular religious sect to the exclusion of all others and by the even more candid statement in Justice Douglas' concurring opinion, in which he says:
I cannot say that to authorize this prayer is to establish a religion in the strictly historic meaning of those words.
There is furthermore great uncertainty as to the reach of this decision. In a footnote to the majority opinion, Justice Black states:
There is, of course, nothing in the decision reached here that is inconsistent with the fact that schoolchildren and others are officially encouraged to express love for our country by reciting historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence which contain references to the Deity or by singing officially espoused anthems which include the composer's professions of faith in a Supreme Being, or with the fact that there are many manifestations in our public life of belief in God.
This suggests that the only vice in the New York school prayer is that it was composed by the State board of regents—even though this was for the purpose of assuring its nondenominational character and this in consultation with clergymen of all faiths.
Justice Douglas' opinion, on the other hand, states that it would make no difference if a different prayer were said every day or if the ministers of the community rotated, each giving his own prayer. Indeed, he indicates that the principles of the majority decision, in which he concurred, would invalidate every reference to religion in governmental activities, including the marshal's supplication at the beginning of every session of the Supreme Court"God save the United States and this honorable Court."
Anyone who reflects on the subject could cite a dozen instances in which Government has expressed kinship with our religious heritage.
Our military services all employ chaplains, and attendance at religious services is compulsory at West Point, Annapolis, and at the Air Force Academy.
Both the Senate and the House employ chaplains and under our rules every day's session must open with prayer.
Since 1954, the Pledge of Allegiance has contained the words “under God.”
The use of the phrase "In God we trust" on all our coins has been authorized for almost a hundred years.
Since 1956, our national motto has been officially declared to be “In God We Trust."
Each of our Presidents, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy, upon assuming his office, has asked the protection and help of God.
The preamble to the New York State Constitution begins "We the people of the State of New York, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom," and I understand that similar references to the Almighty appear in every State constitution.
The Declaration of Independence expresses "a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence.”
On the day after the first Congress passed the resolution which became the first amendment, it adopted another resolution calling for the designation of "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.”
In 1952, Congress enacted legislation calling upon the President each year to proclaim a National Day of Prayer.
The income tax laws have always exempted religious organizations and contributions to religious organizations are deductible by individual and corporate taxpayers.
These examples could be multiplied endlessly. They indicate that religion has always been part of the fabric of American life—both private and public. They demonstrate that not since the founding of the Republic has the separation of church and state been held to require rejection of religion by the state.
Under these circumstances, few would anticipate that an attempt by the New York State Board of Regents to encourage an expression of reverence to God at the beginning of each school day would be assailed as an infringement upon the first amendment. In the words of Chief Judge Desmond, in his opinion for the highest State court in New York upholding the regents' prayer, such a holding is “in defiance of all American history.”
Compared to all of the other governmental practices which we have sanctioned for decades, the first amendment implications of this case were inconsequential. While I would like to limit the Court's decision as narrowly as possible, I cannot avoid the apprehension that it has put a new gloss on the first amendment under which every public or governmental manifestation of kinship with religion will be in jeopardy.
Some observers, while avoiding any direct appraisal of the validity of the decision, have suggested that it may be a good decision because it will encourage greater emphasis on religion in the home and church. Of course, the church and family have the primary responsibility for teaching the young the principles of their faith.
The issue raised in this case, however, is not the extent to which religion is to be promoted at home and at church, but the extent to which religion is to be confined to the home and church and excluded from other areas of public life. In
my view it should be a permissible part of the educational curriculum of our schools to promote reverence to God just as it may promote patriotism and other spiritual and moral values. The Supreme Court has held that a student cannot be forced to salute the flag of the United States if it is against his religious principles, but this has never been taken to mean that those who wish to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance must be denied the opportunity.
The Supreme Court would certainly have been expected to strike down any compulsory participation in the regents' prayer by students who objected, but in striking down the prayer itself it has allowed not only dissent, but control of this phase of our educational process by the dissenters. This goes beyond neutrality between the faiths or between believers and nonbelievers and I do not myself understand how any such negation of religion in the public schools will serve to stimulate an interest in and awareness of religion among young Americans.
It is for these reasons that I am sympathetic to proposals for a constitutional amendment. I recognize, at the same time, that we are in a very delicate area and I will say to those who have used this decision as an excuse for another massive assault upon the Supreme Court that nothing could, in my judgment, be more misguided or destructive of any hopes for action. One can disagree with a decision of the Court without impugning the motives, integrity of good faith of the Justices of our High Tribunal. Vituperative denunciation of the Court or any of its members is out of harmony with the subject matter of our concern and will completely discredit attempts to modify or clarify the Court's decision.
There are two axioms which I insist upon as a predicate for action: First, that we must not weaken the status or independence of the Supreme Court and, second, that we must not impair the true doctrine of church-state separation rather than isolation. If we proceed in a constructive and moderate spirit, I am confident we can deal with this problem without undermining either the first amendment or the Supreme Court. If, on the other hand, we proceed recklessly or vindictively, only harm can result and these hearings will have served no useful purpose.
In conclusion, I would like to read into the record one letter from a constituent which sums up very well my own sentiments. It was sent to me by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur W. Carney just 1 day after the Court's decision. Art Carney is a well-known television artist. This is what their letter says:
JUNE 26, 1962. DEAR SENATOR KEATING : The recent constitutional interpretation passed by the Supreme Court of the United States of America regarding prayers said in the public schools is an intolerable one. It is hard to believe that any peoples who truly acknowledge and love a supreme being, no matter what their religious affiliation, could possibly interpret our Constitution in this manner, when it was written not to eliminate or reduce our spirtual concepts, but to incorporate them into the very fabric of America. The United States has been tireless in its efforts to desegregate the public schools, because, in “God's sight,” all are created equal, and should have equal opportunity. We recognize the importance of “God's sight” and yet ignore it when it involves God himself. To pray is to
communicate with God. If this is made unconstitutional in any area of the lives of Americans, we feel our country is in jeopardy. Very truly yours,
(S) Jean and Arthur W. Carney,
Mr. and Mrs. ARTHUR W. CARNEY. I would add to the letter from the Carneys only one thought in conclusion. That is that the officials in New York will obey the Court's decision unless and until it is modified by a subsequent ruling or a constitutional amendment. This they have already made clear and I respect them for their forbearance and respect for the law of the land. It is in this wholesome spirit that our difficulties can be most wisely resolved and progress most clearly assured.
Senator JOHNSTON. We are glad to have these remarks from the Senator from New York, Mr. Keating.
We will now hear from the Senator from Mississippi.
STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN STENNIS, A U.S. SENATOR FROM THE
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
Senator STENNIS. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I indeed welcome this opportunity to join with you today in seeking a solution to the problem created by the unfortunate decision of our highest Court in Engel v. Vitale. As we all know, the Court held in that case that a simple and denominationally neutral prayer used in the opening exercises of New York's public schools violated the first amendment's ban on the establishment of a religion even though student participation in the prayer was voluntary.
It will not be my purpose today to attempt to give a detailed historical or legal discussion of the issues involved in this case. I propose to limit my discussion, first, to the problems which have arisen and will arise from the Court's decision and, second, to what action, if any, should be taken on the matter.
The prayer involved in the decided case was composed and recommended by the State board of regents, but its use was optional with the local school boards. No student was required against his wishes to join in it and each child had the option to refrain from participating or even to leave the room during the recitation. The prayer was in the following language:
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teacher, and our country.
Under other circumstances it might be that the Court's decision could and should be restricted to the specific facts involved and that it should not be viewed as a forerunner of things to come. In this instance, however, there is sound reason to believe to the contrary. The logic and language of the majority opinion and the general trend of prior decisions on this subject lend credence to the belief that Court will go far beyond its actual holding in the Engel case when future cases are decided. This belief is particularly reinforced by the extreme position taken in the concurring opinion of Justice Douglas who, of course, participated in the conferences of the Justices prior to the decision. He declared that many other governmental "aids” to religion similarly violate the first amendment. I have a grave apprehension, therefore, that the decision in this case will shortly be followed by others which increasingly erode our spiritual heritage.