WASHINGTON (Jul. 26)
The Senate Judiciary Committee today heard testimony from Senators that the Supreme Court’s decision banning prayers in the public schools has aroused wide concern in America that all official recognition of a divine being will be outlawed. A number of Senators urged a Constitutional amendment to nullify the ruling.
Sen. Olin Johnston, South Carolina Democrat, presided and announced that a great number of organizations and individuals have asked to be heard on the issue. Among the groups seeking to testify are extremist organizations, such as Gerald L. K. Smith’s so-called “Christian Nationalist Crusade” and other rightist extremists who want to use the hearings as a propaganda forum against Jews who backed the Supreme Court.
Jewish organizations may testify in support of the court’s decision. The committee has not yet announced an agenda. The opening testimony pertained to legislative proposals by Senators to alter the finding of the court, especially through the means of a Constitutional amendment.
Today’s first witness, Sen. John Stennis, Mississippi Democrat, charged that the court went far beyond the intent of the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom. He said the court’s “extreme position” against religion was “a forerunner of things to come.” Senators A. Willis Robertson, Virginia Democrat, J.Glenn Beall, Maryland Democrat, and J. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Democrat, all voiced concern that American tradition and religious faith were being undermined.
Sen. Kenneth Keating, New York Republican and a member of the Committee, said he was disturbed by portents of “the bitter and highly emotional character of many of the letters I have received on both sides of the issue.” He said the court’s action “has been far more divisive than the practice it struck down.” Sen. Keating said there seemed an almost universal feeling that if the decision represented the emerging law, a Constitutional amendment of some kind is required.
Senators Philip A. Hart, Michigan Democrat, and Roman Hruska, Nebraska Republican, raised questions in cross examining witnesses to stress need for separation of church from state. Both Senators are members of the Committee.