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Senate Body Starts Hearings on Permitting Prayers in Public Schools

Important testimony by Catholic and Protestant witnesses today registered strong opposition to a proposed Constitutional amendment to permit prayers in public schools at Senate hearings which held an initial session on a resolution offered by Senate Republican Leader Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois and is backed by 47 other Senators.

Hearings are being conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitutional Amendment Subcommittee headed by Sen. Birch Bayh, Indiana Democrat. Sen. Bayh today asked that the hearings be kept free of “emotionalism.” He said his subcommittee would seek to find what, if anything, could be gained from amending the Constitution.

The Rev. Robert Drinan, Dean of the Boston College Law School, said he wished to testify on behalf of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders and organizations in opposition to the Dirksen amendment. Rev. Drinan termed Sen. Dirksen’s legislation “almost incomprehensible.” He described the measure as “an almost irrational refusal to surrender one of the most persistent myths in American life — the illusion that the public school can train future citizens in morality and piety.”

The Rev. Dr. David R. Hunter, deputy general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, said leaders of national Protestant bodies were not requesting this or any other amendment to reinstate prayer in public education. Prof. Paul Freund, Harvard Law School, registered “compelling objections” from a legal viewpoint.

Sen. Dirksen, however, sought to debunk the “sophisticated arguments” and warned that the issue will be resolved by the will of the “common man” who he depicted as demanding prayers in public school. The hearings will continue for eight days.

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