When Chief Justice Earl Warren announced “Number 119—Murray versus Curlett” on the morning of February 27, a packed courtroom and news gallery leaned forward eagerly to hear long-awaited U. S. Supreme Court arguments in two emotionally-charged cases involving public school opening exercises.
Young but balding Leonard J. Kerpelman had the first hour. He represented the Murrays, a Baltimore public school student and his mother who are atheists. They object to a 1905 rule which requires each city school to open with “the reading, without comment, of a chapter in the Holy Bible and/or the use of the Lord’s Prayer.”
Kerpelman argued that the majority (4–3) of Maryland’s highest court had erred in upholding the constitutionality’ of the rule. “What we have here,” he contended, “is a religious ceremony … which is sectarian.” He said it amounts to an “establishment of religion” and interferes with student Murray’s “free exercise” of his religion in violation of the First Amendment, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or preventing the free exercise thereof.”
Visibly on edge, Justice Potter Stewart (lone dissenter in the highly controversial 1962 decision against the New York Board of Regents’ prayer) asked whether striking down these practices would not interfere with the free exercise of religion of those who favor them.
Kerpelman replied that no one is free to exercise religious practices which amount to an “establishment of religion.” Whereas the Lord’s Prayer “is a beautiful prayer” and the Bible is excellent literature, both being “Christian,” school opening exercises based on them, he said, would prefer the Christian religion.
To illustrate the effect of school opening exercises, Kerpelman, who is Jewish, said his six-year-old daughter believes—partly due to the influence of such exercises—that Jesus is the Son of God. “I’m not too worried,” he added. “I think she’ll get over it, but I would rather she had never come to this belief.”
Of the four attorneys who prepared the brief in favor of the rule, two are Roman Catholic and two Jewish.
First of the three attorneys to argue in favor of the Bible-Lord’s Prayer rule was greying Francis B. Burch, Solicitor of Baltimore. Vigorously he contended that the practice in question, although of religious origin, was not intended as a religious exercise, nor as religious instruction, but was designed “to inculcate moral and ethical precepts of value in a salutary and sobering exercise with which to begin the school day.”
When the tall attorney stated that his case does not involve a state-composed prayer as did the 1962 prayer case, Justice Arthur Goldberg wanted to know if there is a difference between a state-composed and a state-selected prayer.
Burch replied that the Lord’s Prayer, although state-selected, is traditional.
Next, the city’s Deputy Solicitor, George W. Baker, Jr., argued that in no way had the Murrays’ free exercise of religion been interfered with. The rule, he noted, allowed any pupil to be excused. He reminded the court that in the 1943 Barnette case the student who on religious grounds objected to saying the oath of allegiance was exempted but the saying of the oath by others was not abolished.
White-haired Thomas B. Finan, Attorney General of Maryland, who had also filed a brief amicus curiae, addressed the court and answered questions for 15 minutes. At the outset he revealed a point of difference with Burch. He regards the exercises as religious, not merely secular, but nevertheless constitutional because they are part of our national heritage—permitted and held to some extent in no fewer than 37 states.
Asked Warren: What did the mapority of Maryland’s Court of Appeals decide? Answer: that these exercises were in the same category as Congress opening with prayer and such public religious expressions.
Furthermore, Finan contended, if this exercise amounts to an “establishment” of a theistic religion, then to ban it amounts to an establishment of an atheistic, or at least agnostic, religion. Since a court cannot be strictly neutral, it should uphold the long-standing preferences of the majority, he concluded.
During Kerpelman’s rebuttal, Justice William Douglas asked whether a period of silence would be objectionable. Kerpelman did not think so because no child would stand out as different from the others. Remarked Justice Stewart dryly: “One could even think of disbelief in God during this period.” It brought a ripple of laughter.
The second case argued before the Supreme Court last month involved Abington Township, Pennsylvania. A U.S. District Court has held (2–1) unconstitutional (as an “establishment of religion”) a Pennsylvania statute requiring “at least ten verses from the Holy Bible” to be read in public schools at the beginning of each day.
Philip H. Ward III argued for appellants: (1) that the appellees have no standing to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court because they have not been deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and (2) that the statute’s purpose is only to aid moral training of students, the Bible being the best source to meet this purpose.
Goldberg wanted to know if such a use of the Bible does not denigrate it. “Shouldn’t it be read for what it is—the greatest religious document in the world?” he asked.
At one point Ward undermined the school board position in the Maryland case by declaring he thought the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer was a religious act that was unconstitutional.
Red-haired Henry W. Sawyer III, a Unitarian attorney for the Schempp family of Abington Township, also Unitarian, eloquently argued for an hour long the lines expressed by Kerpelman. He charged: “It is arrogance to equate ‘our’ religious traditions with this book [the Bible],” because it is not the tradition of many Americans. Further, he contended that the Bible teaches religion and morality, that the two cannot be separated, and that the Bible’s morality differs from today’s morality.
The last five minutes went to John D. Killian III, youthful-looking Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania. He asserted that to remove the traditional Bible reading from the state’s schools would amount to official hostility to religion on the part of the court. Furthermore, “it would open a Pandora’s box of litigation which could serve to remove from American public life every vestige of our religious heritage.”
Attorney Kerpelman stated afterwards: “This is a constitutional question, not a theological question.” Many observers feel theology is very much involved, but its arguments were conspicuously absent. Even the attorneys favoring the opening exercise regarded arguments from a religious standpoint too legally risky and too weak before the sentiments of the court. They felt their best chance of saving the exercise was to argue that, although religious in origin and purpose, it was now a secular exercise with a secular, that is, moral purpose.
Almost unanimously veteran Supreme Court newsmen privately predicted a 8–1 vote against Bible reading and prayer in public schools. The court decision may not be announced until June.
Dr. Edwin H. Rian is resigning as president of Biblical Seminary in New York, effective May 31.
Rian cited (1) “apparently irreconcilable views” between himself and “certain members of the Board of Trustees and certain members of the faculty concerning the goal and purpose of the seminary,” and (2) his desire to “spare the Biblical Seminary in New York a prolonged conflict.” Rian has served as president since August 15, 1960.
The chairman of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s New Testament department resigned last month in protest against the school’s dismissal of Dr. Ralph Elliott.
Dr. Heber Peacock, whose resignation is effective July 31, declared in a letter to Dr. Millard J. Berquist, seminary president, “I cannot in good conscience continue to identify myself with a school that has so little regard for basic Christian principles.”
Elliott, chairman of the seminary’s Old Testament department, was dismissed last fall after he refused to withdraw from a second printing his book, The Message of Genesis. The book’s theological viewpoint has been sharply criticized by Southern Baptist conservatives.
Peacock said Elliot’s dismissil was “a dishonorable and unjust attempt to sell the life of one man to buy off the school’s attackers.”
Berquist said the seminary will continue to follow its “progressive-conservative” position and the “historical-critical” approach. “There is no intention to circumscribe our faculty in its use of this approach, followed rather generally in our seminaries today.”
This is the second major seminary controversy in which Peacock has been involved. In 1958, he was one of 13 faculty members dismissed by trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville.
Peacock said he is accepting a position with the American Bible Society in New York as a translation consultant on a West African project.
The Christian Admiral
A renovated hotel on the oceanfront at Cape May, New Jersey, will be put to use by the International Council of Christian Churches “and all others interested in the defense of freedom and our Christian faith.”
ICCC President Carl McIntire announced last month that the eight-story building, formerly the Admiral Hotel, will be the focal point of a 30-acre conference center to be known as the “Christian Admiral.”
The property, which includes 60 feet of Atlantic Ocean frontage, was purchased for $300,000 and will be controlled by Christian Beacon Press, a non-profit corporation consisting of elders and deacons of the Bible Presbyterian Church in Collingswood, New Jersey.
McIntire said another $250,000 will be spent for improvements: The center will be open the year round “to make patriots out of Christians and Christians out of patriots.”
Two Roman Doors?
Four prominent Roman Catholic theologians who figure significantly in the Second Vatican Council’s renewal thrust were scratched from a lecture roster last month at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D. C.
A spokesman said the university “preferred not to invite” the four at the present time. They include Father Gustave A Weigel and Father John Courtney Murray, both noted Jesuit professors at Woodstock College. The other two are Father Hans Küng of Germany, author of the most controversial book about the council, and Father Godfrey Diekmann, vice president of the National Catholic Liturgical Conference.
Their names were stricken from a list of about 15 speakers submitted by the Graduate Student Council to the university administration in January as prospective speakers for the lecture series. Those actually invited were to be determined by the availability of speakers on the dates open on the campus calendar. Prior to issuance of invitations the list was submitted for clearance.
The university was understood as trying to avoid taking sides in a church controversy still to be resolved.
Msgr. Joseph McAllister, vice rector of the university, emphasized that Weigel was not being “banned from the campus” and pointed out that he was still speaking before an undergraduate class where “he can express any view that he wishes.”
The Catholic University of America is described as being in a unique position in that it is America’s only pontifical institution—its rector is appointed directly by the Pope—and it is sponsored by the entire Catholic hierarchy of the United States. Francis Cardinal Spellman is president of its board of trustees.
Meanwhile, The Pilot, newsweekly of Richard Cardinal Cushing’s Archdiocese of Boston, took issue with Catholic University authorities, calling the original decision a “miscalculation.” The Pilot noted that Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, would soon visit the United States. It said Cardinal Bea had “expressed strong views at the Council, as have many of the Council Fathers, but this should hardly suggest that it is improper that he speak similarly to a wider world audience on these subjects.”
It was announced subsequently that Weigel was being invited to be the university’s commencement speaker in June.
Weigel sought to minimize the significance of the whole episode. He said he does not care for the terms “liberal” and “conservative” to be applied to Catholic theologians.
“I prefer to use the terms ‘open door’ and ‘closed door,’ ” he said. “The ‘open door’ school of thought believes that the church must modify its practices to keep pace with the changing world and the ‘closed door’ schools holds that all change is treasonable.”
According to Weigel, about 60 per cent of the churchmen present for last fall’s council session backed an “open door” policy.
Strictly speaking, a two-thirds majority is needed to pass a measure, but Weigel implied that the support of Pope John XXIII would probably make up the six per cent difference.
An eloquent defense of Christian origins resounded across the picturesque Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia in midwinter.
When a pair of philosophy professors won headlines with anti-Christian needling, Lutheran students brought in Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, chairman of Waterloo University’s history department and already one of Canada’s ablest young evangelical scholars, for a rebuttal.
The 31-year-old Montgomery, who became a Christian believer while studying philosophy at Cornell, argued for the validity of the New Testament account on accepted grounds of historical method. His profusely documented lectures raised many an eyebrow among UBC’s 13,600 students, many of whom had long discounted a rational approach to Christian belief.
Montgomery is now writing a five-volume History in Christian Perspective.
Reporting Church Scandals
“You cannot honestly distinguish the immorality of a clergyman from that of a doctor, a policeman, a milkman, or any other,” declared a speaker at last month’s Church of England Assembly. The statement was prompted by a motion from a layman, Dr. E. G. M. Fletcher, a Member of Parliament, calling for restrictions on press reporting in certain ecclesiastical court cases.
The Bishop of Chester, Dr. Gerald Ellison, opposed any suggestion of secrecy in the administration of justice, and added that he thought the public respected the church for bringing scandal into the open. He pointed out also that there had been only three cases this century to which Dr. Fletcher’s motion would be applicable.
Dr. Mervyn Stockwood, Bishop of Southwark, disagreed. He said that Roman Catholics dealt with this sort of problem without publicity, and added that the public “would probably say that the Roman Catholic Church knows how to handle these things very much better than the Church of England.” The three Houses voted separately on the issue: the motion was carried overwhelmingly by the clergy, narrowly by the laity, but the bishops voted 11–9 against it. Because such legislation needs a clear majority in each House, Dr. Fletcher failed to carry the day.
At another session a lively debate took place on whether the New English Bible should be read in church. One layman charged the translators with “sheer murder,” and suggested that they had been under pressure commercially to create something different for purposes of copyright. Dr. Donald Coggan, Archbishop of York and one of the translators, strongly denied this. Professor D. E. Nineham, another translator, pointed out that the Bible sits in judgment on the church, and not vice versa. He rebutted the allegation that the NEB conflicted with Anglican doctrine; if it did, he said, then perhaps Anglican doctrine needed reform.
Note to Siberians
Note to the 32 Siberians who sought refuge in the U. S. Embassy in Moscow: A handful of fellow Christians in America are trying to answer your plea for help.
A Russian Refugee Committee spearheaded by Anthony Palma, Hollywood playwright, undertook a letter-writing campaign to Secretary of State Dean Rusk urging that the U. S. government use diplomatic means to protect the Siberians from reprisals.
Palma, a Roman Catholic layman, also coordinated an interdenominational telephone effort: some 600 churches in the Los Angeles area and at least one in each of 50 major U. S. cities were asked to support an aid campaign for the Siberian Christians. Now he is crusading for a simultaneous worldwide 10-minute period of prayer in behalf of all who are persecuted because of their religious beliefs.
In Decatur, Georgia, Columbia Theological Seminary students led by John Whitner have pledged nearly $1,000 for the Siberians (suggested uses: legal fees, travel expense, etc., but not a ransom fund).
The National Council of Churches, preoccupied with entertaining a delegation of government-approved Soviet churchmen, has indicated no interest in helping the Siberians. The World Council of Churches, however, in reply to a plea from the Ukrainian Evangelical Alliance of North America, expressed “deep concern.” General Secretary W. A. Visser ’t Hooft said “concrete steps” had been taken in the Siberians’ behalf. He added that there was reason to believe that they were “producing some effect.” He did not elaborate.
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