U.S. churchmen descended upon Washington last month in a major lobbying operation designed to secure passage of the civil rights bill now before the Senate.
“Not since Prohibition,” said columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, “has the church attempted to influence political action in Congress as it is now doing on behalf of Presidents Johnson’s civil rights bill.”
Democratic Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, floor manager of the bill, said that Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish religious groups are the “most important force at work today on behalf of civil rights.” The bill’s passage, he declared, depends “in large part on the activity of the churches.”
First to act on Capitol Hill were some 100 members of the United Church of Christ. They spent several days in Washington and met with senators from twenty-two key states to urge endorsement of the present measure.
Religious News Service said the churchmen promised support for those senators who backed the civil rights bill and cited the need for its passage to those who were non-committal.
Dr. Truman B. Douglass, head of the denomination’s home mission board, was quoted as saying that the United Church of Christ is “ready to support any Senator favoring the civil rights bill now being debated in the Senate by mobilizing church opinion within his own constituency and throughout the nation.”
No avowedly segregationist senators were called on. “We wanted to pinpoint the witness where something could be accomplished,” a spokesman said.
Dr. Ray Gibbons, director of the denomination’s Council of Christian Social Action, said that “this ‘Witness in Washington’ is the first wave of a great stream of representatives of the churches who will come to Washington.”
A leading Southern opponent of the bill, meanwhile, told the Senate that some educators and clergymen promoting the legislation have not even taken the trouble to read the contents of the measure.
Democratic Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina made his comment in detailing the size and implications of the civil rights bill. He said that no educator or clergyman who approached him understood the “implications” of the administration’s program.
He compared the measure to the plethora of rights bills introduced in Congress in 1960—and said the country should “thank the good Lord” that such bills had been kept from debate and vote through the efforts of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I do not know what will happen now,” Ervin said. “The greatest pressure ever has been exerted upon us. Educators and ministers of the Gospel have come to me and urged me to vote for the passage of this bill. I have asked them whether they have ever read the bill and know what its contents and implications are. I have always received a negative answer to that question.”
Another opponent of the bill, Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, charged that efforts by the National Council of Churches to stimulate widespread support for passage constitute unlawful lobbying activities.
He quoted a “tax authority” as indicating that the actions taken by the NCC may have jeopardized its status as a tax-exempt organization. He took specific issue with a letter of February 5 sent from the NCC’s Commission on Religion and Race to executives of state councils of churches and others. The letter urged them to watch the progress of the civil rights bill and to be prepared to “barrage” congressmen with telephone calls, telegrams, and personal visits in behalf of a “strong bill with FEPC (fair employment practices) and public accommodations” provisions.”
Thurmond said his claim was inspired by Major Edgar C. Bundy of the Church League of America. The senator said he was bringing the matter to the attention of the Internal Revenue Commissioner.
The National Council’s Commission on Religion and Race, meanwhile, rescheduled a “continuous worship service” in Washington in behalf of the civil rights bill. Originally planned to begin the week after Easter, the event is now scheduled to open April 29.
Greetings At The White House
President Johnson greeted some 150 Southern Baptist churchmen in the White House Rose Garden with a series of ancedotes. Sample:
“I wish you could have seen Billy Graham and Bill Moyers in that pool together the other day. Everyone else was already a Christian, so they just took turns baptizing each other.”
Later, Johnson became more serious. “Help us,” he asked, “to pass this civil rights bill and establish a foundation upon which we can build a house of freedom where all men can dwell. Help us, when this bill has been passed, to lead all of our people in this great land into a new fellowship.”
The President then invited the churchmen, who were in Washington for a Christian leadership seminar, to take a tour of the White House. Inside, they were greeted by another member of the Johnson family, 17-year-old Luci Baines, who appeared in a hallway barefoot and clad in shorts.
Five Problem Areas
Baptist Press Staff Writer W. Barry Garrett asserted last month that “a careful study of President Johnson’s ‘war on proverty’ reveals serious church-state problems.”
“In an obvious effort to avoid the religious issue of federal aid to church schools,” Garrett said, “the President’s program would administer educational programs through public agencies. However, he would provide a variety of aids to private nonprofit agencies. Church schools and agencies could develop parts of the program provided they do not involve ‘sectarian instruction and religious worship.’ ”
The Baptist Press report listed five “illustrations of church-state problems”:
“Job Corps Program: The director would be authorized to enter into agreements with any federal, state, or local agency or private organization for the provision of such facilities and services ‘as are needed.’ This program would provide ‘residential centers’ for ‘education, vocational training, and useful work experience.’
“Work-Training Programs: Both public and private nonprofit agencies would be aided in work programs for young people. However, projects ‘involving the construction, operation or maintenance of any facility used or to be used for sectarian instruction or as a place for religious worship’ would be prohibited. The ‘non-religious’ projects of private agencies could be aided.
“Work-Study Programs: Students in institutions of higher education would be aided in work programs to enable them to attend school. Such programs could not involve those facilities of the school used for ‘sectarian instruction or as a place of religious worship.’
“Community Action Programs: Both public and private agencies could be aided. If elementary or secondary education programs are involved they must be administered by the public educational agency or agencies in the community. The Act requires that no child shall be denied the benefit of such a program because he is not regularly enrolled in the public schools.’
“Family Farm Development: Both public and private nonprofit corporations would receive aid … to develop family farms.
“Volunteers for America: The director would be authorized to ‘recruit, select, train and refer’ volunteers for a wide variety of domestic programs involving both public and private nonprofit agencies. Many of these, no doubt, would be church agencies, but the restrictions against ‘sectarian instruction and places of religious worship’ would apply.”
The Case For Devotions
The nation’s religious leaders will be called upon this month to give their views of the so-called “school prayer” bills now before Congress.
Democratic Representative Emanuel Celler announced that, despite his personal objections to the bills, his House Judiciary Committee will begin hearings on the measures April 22.
The principal proposal calls for a Constitutional amendment in a compromise-language draft devised by Republican Representative Frank J. Becker after a conference with some fifty legislators. Becker has been critical of Celler’s refusal heretofore to give any consideration to the measures. Becker had secured 161 signatures of congressmen toward the 218 needed to bypass the committee and secure direct action by the House when Chairman Celler announced the hearings.
Becker, a Roman Catholic, subsequently issued a strongly worded statement against Celler’s decision to start the hearings on April 22, which is opening day of the New York World’s Fair. Both Becker and Celler, who is Jewish, are from New York.
It is estimated that 144 separate resolutions have been submitted since the U. S. Supreme Court, in June, 1963, barred public school devotional exercises.
Celler, declaring that his committee would call on top Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders to testify, said the proposal for school prayer “bristles with difficulties.” He admitted that his mail has been heavy, with the greater amount supporting school prayer.
Political pressure was seen as forcing the projected hearings. Becker’s signature campaign among congressmen received added support recently when Republican House leaders called on the committee for action. Many Southern Democrats also favor a Constitutional amendment.
The degree of support for the amendment is somewhat surprising in view of the fact that none of the mainline U. S. denominations have given it any support. Most Protestant leaders are against it. Even the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which is understood by and large to favor public school devotions, has not given much overt endorsement.
On the Senate side of the Capitol, meanwhile, a new angle appeared in the current church-state controversy. Republican Senator Milward Simpson introduced a joint resolution that would amend the Constitution to permit individual states to enact laws relating to religion.
The proposed amendment to the Constitution would read:
“Nothing in this Constitution shall prevent the enactment by any State of any law with respect to religion; except that no State shall enact any law establishing any organized church or religious association of any faith, denomination, or sect as a preferred or favored church or religious association, or enact any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”
Republican Senator Bourke B. Hicken-looper of Iowa declared:
“We must learn to differentiate between the state using its power to inflict a particular type of belief on people, which is definitely prohibited by the Constitution, and using the power of the state to exclude the acknowledgment, let us say, in a public institution, of that spiritual reliance which most people depend upon.”
A Park For All
In Greece last month, an alleged arson attempt on property belonging to the Protestant community in the city of Katerini led to an apparent settlement of an eight-year dispute. The controversy was over control of a small park situated alongside the Evangelical Church of Katerini.
A youth arrested in the case admitted placing five cans of benzine in the churchyard, but said he was only trying to hide it after stealing it from a military depot.
The Rev. Michael Kyriakakis, moderator of the Greek Evangelical Church, immediately wired the Prime Minister and all members of the new Greek government.
“We accuse last night’s attempt of arson … made by intolerant people. This attempt is a continuation of a non-acceptable oppression of the Greek Evangelical community of Katerini, which had been exercised by the former illiberal government.
“The Nomarch of Katerini by his stand and by his terrorizing the clerks of our church, encouraged malefactor elements; and we express our astonishment and sorrow that tins of benzine used for the setting on fire of our church, had been transferred on the spot by a military car. We request protection of life and property and of the constitutional rights of Greek Evangelicals in Katerini.”
The government, in response, moved quickly. The Minister of Interior gave orders to local authorities to see that peace and order prevailed, and the Minister for Cults and Education held a conference with representatives of the church. It was agreed that the park will remain a park and that no buildings will be erected there. The church, in turn, agreed to look after the park and to keep it open to the public.
The Protestants of Katerini claim ownership to the property dating back over thirty years. Since 1958 they have resisted local government attempts to seize the park and build a school there. On one occasion. Protestant women smashed padlocks placed on the park gates, and several hundred gathered in the town square to protest the action. Several were reported beaten and injured when police tried to disperse the crowd. The Protestants have argued that a new school is not needed since one has been built on property near the park.
The Northern Ecumenical Institute reported last month that 129,000 Norwegian women have signed a six-point petition pleading for a reaffirmation of basic moral values.
“Our cultural life is at a parting of the ways,” the women told the nation’s legislators. “We are witnessing a stormy assault on the moral standards and the ethical values on which Norwegian society is based.”
Mrs. Guri Ulfstad of Oslo spearheaded the effort to drawn up the petition. It reportedly “went like wildfire.” In some localities, every woman signed it.
The women stated their position as follows:
1. We are convinced that there is a clear and unchanging law on what is right and what is wrong.
2. We call upon every man and woman to defend courageously our basic moral values.
3. We believe in the sanctity of marriage and that sexual intercourse is exclusively a part of married life.
4. We wish to share responsibility with the schools for giving our children the necessary knowledge of sexual reproduction, but we do not wish the schools to give sexual “instruction” or teach the use of contraceptives.
5. We are against the giving of any guidance on family and health matters which may encourage immorality.
Dr. Yitzhak Nissim, 68, was re-elected last month as Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, a post to which he was first named in 1953. Chosen to replace Dr. Yitzhak H. Herzog, who died in 1959, as Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel was 77-year-old Dr. Iser Judah Unterman, who was formerly Chief Rabbi of Jaffa and Tel Aviv.
The Sephardi and the Ashkenazi, differing somewhat in tradition and liturgy, comprise the main Jewish communities of the world, small distinct groups including those in India, Iraq, and Yemen. The Yemenite Jews, however, have almost entirely emigrated and settled in Israel.
The new chief rabbis won election over the opposition of two candidates who had been backed by the Mapai party of Premier Levi Eshkol, which had hoped to see the posts filled by younger men it regarded as more flexible and “liberal” in outlook.
The origin of the separate Sephardic and Ashkenazic groups in Judaism dates from the diaspora which began after the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. One group of the dispersed Jews settled in Spain (which in Hebrew was called Sephard), and remained there until its expulsion in the fifteenth century, when it was forced to seek new homes in other Mediterranean countries, eventually spreading to the New World.
The second main group settled in Germany (Ashkenaz, in Hebrew), from which it spread first to France, Poland, Russia, and various East European countries and then to the United States and other parts of the world. In the meantime, Yiddish had become a lingua franca of the Ashkenazic Jews, and Ladino that of the Sephardic group.
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