The House Judiciary Committee has discovered that prayer can be a controversial subject.
Not long after the committee began hearings on a proposal to overrule the Supreme Court’s ban on prayers and Bible readings in public schools, it became evident that churchmen were divided on the issue.
But some congressmen have said that their mail is overwhelmingly in favor of some kind of amendment to the Supreme Court’s ruling, and they are making sure that their constituency knows that they are “for” God and prayer.
Some have used the hearings as an occasion to lecture Congress and the Supreme Court. One of the most recent examples was Governor George Wallace of Alabama, who “left off campaigning for the presidency for a spell to warn Congress to get with God,” as one reporter wrote.
The intent of the bill (widely known as the “Becker Amendment”) is to overrule a 1963 Supreme Court decision that no state or locality may require recitation of the Lord’s Prayer or Bible verses in public schools.
Dr. Robert Cook, representing the National Association of Evangelicals, told the committee that prayer and Bible reading had been a “tried and proven” custom ever since the inception of public schools, when “ministers were the teachers.”
“While the good that has come from the practice cannot be measured, we believe that it has been considerable and provided a stabilizing influence greater than many realize,” said Dr. Cook. “The adverse effects have been insignificant. We know of none.”
The NAE has come out with a formal statement in favor of an “amendment to the Federal Constitution which will strengthen the present provision for the free exercise of religion in our national life and allow reference to, belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God, in any governmental or public document, proceeding, activity, ceremony, school or institution.”
A representative of the National Council of Churches took a different position. Dr. Edwin H. Tuller, who is also general secretary of the American Baptist Convention, told the committee:
“Neither the church nor the state should use the public school to compel acceptance of any creed or conformity to any specific religious practice.”
Dr. Tuller cited a resolution adopted by his denomination in 1963, which stated, “In the light of the recent Supreme Court decisions, we affirm our historic Baptist belief that religion should not be a matter of compulsion, and that prayers and religious practices should not be prescribed by law or by a teacher or public school official.”
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen suggested to the committee that the controversy could be resolved constitutionally and adequately by permitting the use of the motto “In God We Trust” in public schools.
The leading proponent of the amendment, Rep. Frank J. Becker (R-N. Y.), has charged that committee hearings on the subject have been “loaded” with witnesses who oppose the amendment. He has also threatened to press a petition to transfer the debate to the House floor.
The amendment has been opposed by an ad hoc committee composed of Jews, Episcopalians, Baptists, Presbyterians, and members of the United Church of Christ.
C. Stanley Lowell, associate director of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that if the bill were passed it might mean that “Catholic, fundamental Protestant, liberal Protestant or Buddhist or Moslem” prayers or religious ceremonies could be imposed in areas where these groups predominate.
A Catholic professor, the Rev. Robert G. Howes, said that the Supreme Court’s decisions in 1962 and 1963 “explode a bomb with a deadly fallout.”
Others maintained that non-sectarian school prayers, if adopted, would be devoid of spiritual content.
The Swedish State Lutheran Church will study the possibility of revising a 1951 pronouncement that branded pre-marital sexual relations as a sin.
A plan to unite three regional conferences of the United Church of Christ—one of them all-Negro—was approved last month by representatives of the three groups at a meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina.
President Johnson was given a life patron membership in the Disciples of Christ Historical Society last month and was presented with a special membership certificate by the Disciples’ Council on Christian Unity.
Roman Catholics of the United States now claim a church membership of 44,874,371. The figure, recorded as of January 1, 1964, is reported in the newly released Official Catholic Directory and represents an increase of 1,026,433 over the previous year.
The American Association of Pastoral Counselors was formally launched as a professional organization at its second annual conference in St. Louis last month.
A Protestant Episcopal bishop was deported from Haiti last month. Bishop C. Alfred Voegeli, 60, was given only a few hours to prepare for his departure. He had served in the Negro republic for twenty-one years.
Chicago’s Board of Education voted 7 to 3 to undertake a four-year experiment in shared-time education.
The evangelism commission of the American Lutheran Church recommended that the call to one of its evangelists, the Rev. A. Herbert Mjorud, be terminated because he allegedly promoted glossolalia.
THE RT. REV. JOSEPH GILLESPIE ARMSTRONG, 63, Episcopal bishop of Pennsylvania; in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
DR. DANA DAWSON, 72, retired Methodist bishop; in Shreveport, Louisiana.
DR. E. D. HEAD, 71, retired president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; in San Angelo, Texas.
HARRY HOLT, 59, founder of an adoption program for placing Korean orphans in American homes; near Seoul, Korea.
The Kenya government lifted a ban on a religious sect whose announced aim is to establish an All-African Christian Church, according to Ecumenical Press Service. A government decree said the ban was rescinded because the activities of the sect, known as Dini Ya Msambwa, were “no longer harmful to the state.”
The fourth in a series of unity consultations between Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Episcopal Church representatives took place in New York last month. No conclusions were divulged.
Delegates to the American convention of the YWCA voted to eliminate the pledge of Christian faith as a prerequisite to voting in “Y” affairs. Officers, however, are still expected to affirm Christian faith.
At its annual meeting last month, the American Council of Christian Churches, founded by Dr. Carl McIntire, adopted a statement reading, “We openly criticize the President for calling upon and using churchmen to help press for the passage of [the civil rights] bill.”
J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye has been removed from high school libraries in Orange County, Florida. The Orlando Baptist Conference objected to the book on the grounds that it is obscene.
The Supreme Court will hear three cases next year on conscientious objection to service in the armed forces. It must decide whether it is constitutional to require a person to believe in God or a Supreme Being to be eligible for exemption as a conscientious objector.
Archbishop Joseph T. McGucken has criticized articles and statements in the Catholic press and elsewhere implying an imminent change in the church’s position on birth control. He called such opinions “unwarranted and false.”
The Rt. Rev. Robert F. Gibson, Episcopal bishop of Virginia, elected chairman of the Consultation on Church Union.
The Rev. William Hamilton Nes will retire as professor of homiletics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary at the end of the current academic year.
Dr. Roswell P. Barnes announced he will retire as executive secretary of the New York office of the World Council of Churches by October 1.
Dr. John Wesley Casey named academic dean of Pacific Christian College.
Dr. Raymond B. Brown appointed professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Harold Schachern, religion editor of the Detroit News, elected president of Religious Newswriters Association.
Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, noted Negro Baptist leader and president of Morehouse College, announced that he will retire in 1966.
Dr. Lowell E. Roberts is resigning as president of Friends University, Wichita, Kansas, to join the Malone College faculty as chairman of the Division of Religion and Philosophy.
Dr. J. Wesley Hole elected secretary of the Methodist General Conference to succeed Dr. Leon T. Moore upon his retirement in 1965.
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