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American Jewish Committee Warns Congress on School Prayer Issue

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The American Jewish Committee has urged Congress to reject all pending proposals to override the ban prescribed by the Supreme Court on prayers and Bible readings in the public schools. The House Judiciary Committee last week closed hearings on proposals to amend the Constitution to override this ban.

In testimony made public here today and submitted to the Judiciary Committee, Morris B. Abram, president of the American Jewish Committee, warned against the schools becoming a source of “religious conflict, competition, bitterness and hostility” which would result from “any attempt to use the public schools to encourage religious literacy or commitment.”

On the principle of separation of church and state, the Committee’s statement strongly opposed such measures as the Becker Amendment which “would weaken religious freedom” and serve as a threat to “essential liberties.” One of the chief objections to prayer as part of public school exercises is that it places “the stamp of approval of the state on the religious ceremony” and, in effect, coerces public school children “to participate in a religious rite.” This creates dilemmas and tensions for those children who do not participate or who observe the ritual contrary to their beliefs.

Mr. Abram, in the statement, pointed out that prayer has separate and distinct meanings for different religions, and so-called “non-sectarian prayer,” proposed by the Becker Amendment, could be objectionable to many religious groups and sects. “We want Jewish children to know God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as the God who freed the Jews from slavery. We do not want our children to think of God only in abstract terms, nor even in vague ‘non-denominational’ terms, ” the Committee statement stressed.

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