The U. S. Supreme Court issued a significant new ruling this month on the role of religion in public schools. In effect, the court’s action gave a new lease on life to baccalaureate services. But more than that it seemed to serve notice that the court is not intent upon wholesale removal of religion from public life.
The constitutionality of public school sponsorship of baccalaureate services has been seriously questioned since the court’s 1963 ruling against prayer and Bible reading in the classroom. The new ruling, however, shows that school boards that canceled baccalaureate services acted hastily and without warrant.
Veteran observers in Washington interpret the court’s latest order as indicating that it does not intend to pursue enforcement of a stricter line of separation of church and state.
“Constitutional lawyers will get the message loud and clear,” one source predicted. They will readily see, he added, that the court is not about to consider an end to the chaplaincy or even to the removal of the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.
The new ruling came in response to an appeal of a Florida Supreme Court decision that upheld Bible reading and prayer in public schools as well as baccalaureate services, a religious census of pupils, and a religious test for teachers. The U. S. Supreme Court reversed the state court’s ruling on Bible reading and prayer, as expected, but dismissed the appeal on the other matters “for want of properly presented federal questions.”
It was felt especially significant that comments on the order were written by Justice William O. Douglas, in view of the fact that Douglas is known to hold the most extreme view of church-state separation of any member of the court.
His comments, specifically endorsed by Justice Hugo L. Black, asserted that baccalaureate services and the religious census “do not present substantial federal questions, and so I concur in the dismissal of the appeal as to them.”
Douglas said he did feel the religious test for teachers ought to be argued as a substantial question. The “test” consists of the fact that in Florida applicants for teaching positions are required to answer the question, “Do you believe in God?” Religious attitudes are also considered in making promotions.
Justice Potter Stewart, the lone dissenter in the earlier Bible-reading and prayer decisions, “would note probable jurisdiction” of the Florida appeal as a whole “and set it down for argument on the merits.”
Though many observers see this month’s order as a clarification of the court’s intent, others feel that not all anxieties have necessarily been put to rest. These others believe that a test case posed by litigants who persuasively pose a “hardship” brought on by religious exercises might win a hearing from the court.
The Florida case, decided June 1, was taken to the nation’s highest court by four Dade County (Miami), Florida, parents—two Jewish, a Unitarian, and an agnostic.
Their failure to win a reversal from the U. S. Supreme Court on religious exercises in public schools—excepting classroom devotions—may spell a move to reinstate baccalaureate services in localities where the practice has been dropped. It means an opportunity for clergymen and church laymen to prod their school boards to introduce the religious element at appropriate points in the curriculum. There is a widespread feeling that many school officials have misused previous court decisions as an excuse to eliminate religious facets against which they were prejudiced anyway.
Compromise In Congress?
The House Judiciary Committee wound up hearings this month on proposals to override the Supreme Court’s ban on prayer and Bible reading in public schools. More than 150 persons testified before the committee during the hearings, which extended from April 22 until June 3. Informed opinion in Washington was that something less than a Constitutional change such as proposed by Republican Representative Frank J. Becker of New York was in the offing. Sentiment seemed to be growing instead for a congregational declaration on the role of religion in public schools, a declaration that would merely reflect the viewpoint of the lawmakers and encourage religious practices other than daily prayers and devotional Scripture readings in the public schools. A declaration of this nature indicating “the sense of Congress” would not have the force of law.
Some 10,000 persons traveled to Springfield, Missouri, to attend the fiftieth anniversary convention of the Assemblies of God, largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. The four-day April meeting featured missionary speakers from around the world and some 170 workshop sessions. No business was conducted and no legislation enacted.
North American Baptist Fellowship
The name of the organization shall be the North American Baptist Fellowship. The purpose of the organization shall be: (a) to continue the gains and values growing out of the Baptist Jubilee Advance program (1959–1964); (b) to make possible opportunities for fellowship and the sharing of mutual concerns; (c) to cooperate with all departments of the Baptist World Alliance. It shall have no authority over any Baptist Church nor undertake any work for which the member bodies are responsible.
Under this definition the majority of Baptists in the United States may soon be brought under a permanent framework of organizational cooperation for the first time in well over a century.
Present plans call for the new structure, the North American Baptist Fellowship, to be composed of the seven Baptist denominations of North America that hold membership in the Baptist World Alliance.Southern Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention of the U. S. A., Inc., National Baptist Convention of America, American Baptist Convention, North American Baptist General Conference, Baptist Federation of Canada, and the National Baptist Convention of Mexico. If all seven groups join it would mean a constituency of some 22,000,000 church members.
First to indicate official willingness to join was the American Baptist Convention. In voting endorsement of the new fellowship at their annual sessions in Atlantic City last month, ABC delegates asked for an expansion of its purpose. The convention requests that (b) in the stated purpose be amended to read: to make possible opportunities for fellowship and instruction and the sharing of mutual concerns at the local level as well as at continental meetings.
The whole idea did not fare so well on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention. SBC messengers voted against the new fellowship, then decided to refer the question to a committee for reconsideration next year.
The other Baptist denominations involved will vote on the measure in coming months. The fellowship will come into being as soon as five bodies grant official approval.
Some Southern Baptists expressed fears that the proposed fellowship would be the first step toward an ecumenical organization. Proponents flatly denied any such intent.
Opposition also developed on grounds that distinctives would be blurred on the local level. Ecumenists, on the other hand, see a projection of denominationalism onto the continental level.
A few Southerners voiced anxieties about “fellowship” with Negro churches. One group suggested the name of “North American Baptist Communications Group.”
The specific tasks of the proposed fellowship are still somewhat nebulous. Dr. Theodore F. Adams, noted Southern Baptist churchman and a leading proponent of the fellowship, says that what it does “would be up to the leaders.” Adams said it could not be called a counterpart of the European Baptist Federation because that group “was tailored to fit their needs.” The EBF coordinates missionary efforts.
One obvious if minor task would be to operate such joint endeavors as the World’s Fair display initiated by the Baptist Jubilee Advance program.
During the ceremonies that climaxed the six-year Baptist Jubilee Advance effort in Atlantic City last month, credit for initiating the idea of the North American Baptist Fellowship was given Dr. C. Oscar Johnson, former president of the Baptist World Alliance. Johnson first suggested a North American BWA arm in 1948. Baptists in the United States have not had a comprehensive cooperative program since the Southern Baptist split in 1845.
Race And Polity
A major storm was brewing among Southern Presbyterian churches this month in the wake of their General Assembly’s action aimed at desegregation.
The Synod of South Carolina, embracing 331 churches with more than 66,000 members, adopted an overture stating that the April assembly “did not have the authority to instruct” presbyteries to receive Negro churches within their boundaries. It asks the assembly to “reconsider its action … in the light of Presbyterian polity and procedure.” In a separate action the synod urged its eight presbyteries to take the Negro churches within their bounds “as soon as possible.”
The overture questioning the assembly’s authority was initiated by the Harmony Presbytery, which earlier voted refusal to comply with the assembly’s order. A presbytery in Alabama also has voted rejection of the request to integrate.
A First In Canada
To the accompaniment of a red-coated Royal Canadian Mounted Police band and choir, 500 leading Canadians assembled in an Ottawa hotel one morning this month for the country’s first national interreligious prayer breakfast.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, Allan MacNaughton, described the gathering as unique and expressed hope that it would become an “annual event in Canada’s Christian calendar.” Officials in the Canadian capital city said there is every likelihood it will.
Religious News Service, reporting on the breakfast, quoted MacNaughton as saying it represented “the best example of the ecumenical force at work in the world today.”
Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and opposition leader John G. Diefenbaker read the Scriptures. Edmond Michelet, a member of the Constitutional Council of France, and Boyd Leedom, a member of the National Labor Relations Board in the United States, made brief addresses.
One of the Scripture passages included the verse from Psalm 72 reading: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea.” It was that passage to which the fathers of the Canadian confederation looked a century ago when their country was being named the “Dominion of Canada.”
Leedom said Canada and the United States had been granted an unparalleled opportunity for development of people and resources and must live up to their great heritage. The civilizing force has always been God’s men, he said.
Michelet said all the prophets did not belong to Bible times. He said he considered the work of the International Council for Christian Leadership, with which the prayer breakfast officials are affiliated, to be that of a prophet.
The gathering was a major extension of the Parliamentary breakfast group of members of Parliament. This meets once a month.
Following the breakfast, a seminar on Christian leadership was held under the auspices of ICCL.
Metsad Gozal, the site of an Edomite fortress destroyed by David around 1000 B.C., yielded some of its secrets to members of a spring expedition jointly sponsored by the Israel Department of Antiquities and the Protestant-oriented Israel-American Institute for Biblical Studies.
The excavations, directed by Dr. Y. Aharoni of the Hebrew University, further revealed that rainfall in the Dead Sea area has changed little since the days of the judges, but that in earlier times it was much heavier. The fort is located at the north end of Jebel es-Sodom, about three miles north of modern Sodom.
Salt sedimentation was found on two levels, indicating that the fort had been covered by rising Dead Sea water on two different occasions: first around 1000 B.C., and again in about the sixth century A.D.
A discovery of particular importance came to light as the excavators uncovered a wall built with a row of timbers between each two rows of the huge stones that made up the lower wall of the fort. This exact type of construction is described by Ezra (5:8; 6:4) as the method of building the walls of the Second Temple in 520 B.C.
150 Route De Ferney
The World Council of Churches is setting up shop in its new headquarters building in Geneva. Staff members moved into their new offices several weeks ago. Construction work continues on a library, assembly hall, and exhibit area. A dedication date has not yet been set.
The new WCC address is 150 route de Ferney. The building, which also houses offices of the Lutheran World Federation and the World Presbyterian Alliance, is located on the north side of Lake Geneva.
Since its inception in 1948 the WCC had occupied a cluster of quaint but rickety buildings on a hill south of the lake.
Songs In Mourning
In life Prime Minister Nehru of India declared himself an atheist. In death, however, persons of many religions paid him tribute. Prior to the start of the funeral procession Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs chanted prayers, sang hymns, or read scriptures. Some Christians sang “Lead, Kindly Light” and “Abide with Me.” Evangelicals in India will remember Nehru, who died May 27, as the one chiefly responsible in declaring India a secular state with freedom to preach the Gospel (see also the editorial on page 22).
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