WASHINGTON (Nov. 8)
The attempt to reinstate nondenominational prayers in public schools was defeated in a House vote late this afternoon. Proponents of the measure, which would have overruled the Supreme Court, fell 28 votes short of the required two-thirds majority. The vote was 240162. Twenty-eight Congressmen were absent. There are four vacancies. The draft, sponsored by Rep. Calmers P. Wylie (R., Ohio), would, if passed by the House, have needed a two-thirds vote in the Senate and approval by three-fourths–38–of the state legislatures. It was opposed by Jewish, Protestant and even Catholic organizations, all of which charged that it circumvented the principle of church-state separation embodied in the First Amendment.
Paul S. Berger of Washington, chairman of the American Jewish Congress’ Commission on Law and Social Action, called the House decision “an affirmation of the belief of the American people that the Bill of Rights may not be tampered with.” Passage, he said, “would have set a dangerous precedent, paving the way to other limitations of basic liberties, such as freedom of speech, press and assembly.”
(In Los Angeles, before the voting, the 51st biennial assembly of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations warned that there was a “grave danger” in the amendment. The 300 UAHC delegates from 700 Reform synagogues, representing more than a million members, agreed with Judge Emil N. Baar of New York, a past UAHC chairman, that “If this prayer amendment is passed, the First Amendment of the Constitution–the basic charter of religious liberty through provision for free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state–will be in grave danger of being altered for the first time in American history.”)