A fortnightly report of developments in religion

The greatest achievement ever made in the cause of human progress is the total and final separation of church and state. If we had nothing else to boast of, we could lay claim with justice that first among the nations we of this country made it an article of organic law that the relations between man and his Maker were a private concern, into which other men have no right to intrude.

—David Dudley Field

Governmentally composed prayers are ordinarily dismissed as an affront to the U. S. conscience. But in the emotional context of a historic Supreme Court decision last month they implicitly drew considerable support, creating thereby a major new church-state controversy which rivalled in intensity the reaction to President Truman’s proposal to send an ambassador to the Vatican and the religious issue of President Kennedy’s 1960 election campaign. Although the specific issue was narrow, the ensuing debate ranged far and wide, and some of the most ardent champions of church-state separation felt the court had gone too far. The American experiment in church-state separation, so often credited with fostering religious activity by keeping government out of it, had fallen upon lean times.

“It is a matter of history,” said Justice Hugo L. Black in delivering the majority opinion, “that this very practice of establishing governmentally composed prayers for religious services was one of the reasons which caused many of our early colonists to leave England and seek religious freedom in America.”

What the Supreme Court did on June 25 was to rule by a six-to-one majority that a 22-word interfaith prayer originating in the New York Board of Regents and recommended for daily recitation in state ...

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