WASHINGTON (May. 21)
The possibility that Congress might be stampeded into approving the proposed Becker constitutional amendment, which would void the Supreme Court ban on prayers in public schools, is diminishing informed sources on Capitol Hill said today.
Rep. Emanuel Celler, New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee which is hearing testimony on the issue, expressed the belief that the tide tad turned in the debate. He said “sober Judgment is beginning to make itself felt. ” In addition, a number of Congressmen who initially supported and testified in favor of the amendment sponsored by Rep, Frank Becker, New York Republican, have changed their minds.
In continuing testimony, a number of Jewish spokesmen expressed opposition to all proposals to void the Supreme Court ruling. They included Rabbi Edward E. Klein of New York, testifying for the Central Conference of American Rabbis; and Dr; Joachim Prinz president of the American Jewish Congress.
Congressmen reported a noticeable change in the tope of their mail on the prayer issue. When the hearings began five weeks ago, mail was heavily in favor of such proposed amendments; Foes of the amendment contended that an organized, well-financed pro-amendment mail campaign was underway. But the testimony of the majority of witnesses for religious organizations-Jewish and Christian–as well as of legal experts has been strongly anti-amendment.
Dr. Prinz, now a rabbi in Newark, who had served as a rabbi in Berlin prior to World War II, told the Committee that religious instruction in German schools had failed to prevent the rise of Hitler and the excesses of Nazism. He disputed the position that public school prayer recitation and Bible-reading encouraged national or personal morality, a position he termed “false both in theory and practice.”
Rabbi Klein stated: “The proposed amendment would not make children or their schools more religious or moral. Religion must be both taught and caught by precept and example in the home, in the synagogues and churches. Religion and the home must not look to the school to do their work. Prayer needs an atmosphere of solemnity and reverence. To make it a classroom exercise is to demean prayer and render it meaningless.”
Professor Willard Heckel, dean of the Law School of Rutgers University, told the Committee today that the proposed amendments “should be resisted by all who are concerned about the preservation of freedom and individual rights. ” He warned that human freedom “will not last long if unpopular decisions of the Supreme Court can be overruled by constitutional amendments, ” Theodor Carcich, president of the North American division of the Seventh Day Adventists, warned that the proposed amendments “would tend to magnify religious differences” and carried the threat of religious strife.