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Jewish Spokesmen Split on Issue of Prayer in Public Schools

Jewish spokesmen split with each other in testifying on a proposal for a constitutional amendment to permit prayer in public schools, as did Christian leaders and Senators who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee when it opened hearings on the proposal last Thursday.

Nathan Dershowitz, speaking for the American Jewish Congress and 10 other Jewish organizations, criticized the proposal. Rabbi Seymour Siegel, president of the conservative American Jewish Forum, supported it.

Dershowitz said proponents were creating a “delusion of voluntariness” about the proposed amendment. “To a child in a classroom, no part of the school routine is voluntary. It cannot be made so by the cruel device of telling them that they are allowed to brand themselves as pariahs by leaving the classroom, or by staying there and remaining conspicuously silent.”

But Siegel asserted “there has been a long tradition of including some form of public prayer in the public school.” Sen. Jesse Helms (R.N.C.) declared that the amendment “does not impose prayer on anyone. It does not force any child to participate or even listen to prayer.”

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, (D. Ohio) declared the proposal would “do violence to the time-honored recognition of the separation between church and state. It is very easy to wave the flag and it is also very easy to be moralistic and emphasize religiosity. You don’t create morality by having prayer in schools.”

The Rev. Dean Kelley of the National Council of Churches said the amendment, proposed again by President Reagan in May, was “unjust, unwise and unnecessary.” He said it would make “the rights of members of religious minorities dependent on the self-restraint of religious majorities.”

AMENDMENT WOULD OVERRIDE COURT DECISION

The amendment would override a 1962 Supreme Court decision which banned prayer in public schools as a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on “establishment of religion.”

Robert Dugan, Jr. of the National Association of Evangelicals testified that, on different days, “you would have a Jewish child praying to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you would have a Roman Catholic student praying in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, you would have an evangelical student praying to Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Representatives of the Southern Baptist Council and the Lutheran Council also testified against the proposed amendment.

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