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New Council Formed to Deal with Politics and Religious Freedom

The National Conference of Christians and Jews announced plans today for a four-year program, financed by a $325, 000 Ford Foundation grant, to raise the general level of public discussion and understanding among religious groups differing on public issues.

Dr. Lewis W Jones, NCCJ head, said the new project will be known as the Council on Religious Freedom and Public Affairs. He said the program would seek to analyze problems involving political action and religious freedom, to bring more intellectual coherence and depth into inter-religious relationships and public policy, and to lessen destructive conflicts arising between religious groups on social problems.

He pointed out that the increasingly complex and wider scope of government action was provoking religious differences on such questions as public support for parochial schools, birth control policies, and Sunday closing laws– “issues which divide American citizens of different faiths.”

He warned that American strength and unity “drawn from the common acceptance of the Judaeo-Christian tradition” might be weakened unless a serious effort were made “to increase and mobilize the power of religious and ethical motivation” for “enlightened political action.” He added that this could seldom be done by schools and colleges “or by any one religious faith.”

The Ford Foundation grant, said Dr. Jones, had made possible a pioneering program for this purpose “on a large enough scale and on a high enough level of excellence to have a significant impact.” The project will be started with the immediate creation of a Council on Public Affairs and Religious Freedom, he said. Members will include political philosophers, civic leaders, educators and theologians. The Council will serve as the central advisory body for the National Conference in dealing with political problems involving religious differences.

Dr. Jones said that the Council will work as an impartial body “to which highly charged political-religious issues could be referred for consultation and advice.” A major function, he added, will be identification of key issues and suggestions for research to throw light on them. It will sponsor annual five-day institutes in major cities, to provide clergy and laymen with opportunities to study methods of quiet settlement of intergroup problems.

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