Senate Rejects Amendment Permitting Voluntary Prayers in Schools

The Senate voted today to reject a Constitutional amendment proposed by Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen that would have upset recent Supreme Court rulings barring religious prayers in public schools.

Forty-nine Senators voted for the amendment, and 37 against it, thus making it nine votes short of the two-thirds majority required. The measure would have authorized and provided for voluntary religious functions in public schools. All three Jewish members of the Senate voted against the Dirksen amendment. They are Senators Jacob K. Javits, New York Republican; Abraham Ribicoff, Connecticut Democrat; and Ernest Gruening, Alaska Democrat.

Sen. Dirksen immediately vowed to keep fighting for his amendment, and said he would attempt to obtain passage in the future. He maintained in an emotional debate that the amendment was required to “clarify” the Supreme Court decisions. He criticized religious leaders who opposed the amendment, and held that the “grassroots” of the public supported it. Jewish spokesmen and religious leaders of other faiths had registered strong opposition in the course of Senate hearings on the measure conducted during the summer.

A Constitutional amendment requires a majority of two-thirds in both Senate and House, followed by ratification by three-fourths of all State legislatures. Before today’s showdown vote, the Senate rejected an attempt to substitute a compromise “Sense of Congress” resolution offered by Sen. Birch Bayh, Indiana Democrat. The Bayh resolution would have declared it the sense of Congress that nothing in the Constitution or recent Supreme Court decisions prohibits local school authorities “from permitting individual students to engage in silent, voluntary prayer or meditation.”

(In New York, Haskell Lazere, a representative of the American Jewish Congress, testifying today at a hearing of the City Board of Education, said that the Jewish organizations are opposed to sending public school teachers to church and synagogue schools because such assignments violated freedom of conscience, breached the church-state separation provisions of the U.S. Constitution and New York State Constitution, and flouted the Federal Education Act itself.)

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