NEW YORK (Mar. 15)
The opposition of the American Jewish community to any pro-school prayer amendment to the Constitution was re-emphasized today in a letter signed by more than 250 experts in constitutional law and in a statement issued by the constituent agencies of the Leadership Conference of National Jewish Women’s Organizations.
With President Reagan personally leading a fight for approval in Congress for some kind of constitutional amendment language, the issue is currently bogged down in the Senate over complexities of language and issues of governmental involvement. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that prayer in the nation’s public schools, whatever the format, is unconstitutional.
A proposed amendment must be approved by a three-fourth’s vote in both houses of Congress and subsequently by three-fourth’s of the legislatures of the 50 states. The battle has been started by Reagan’s strategists in the Senate because it is currently controlled by the Republican Party.
The announcement of the letter from the law experts from around the country was made by Norman Redlich, New York University Law School dean and co-chairman of the Commission on Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress.
The letter, which has been circulated to members of the Senate by the AJCongress and People for the American Way, states that a constitutional amendment “would permit government officials to become directly and actively involved in sponsoring religious activities in public schools and other public buildings, even to the point of favoring one faith over others. Such an amendment would strike at the heart of the American tradition of religious liberty and separation of church and state.”
WARNS AGAINST UNDERMINING FIRST AMENDMENT
The statement by the Jewish women’s leadership conference noted that “nothing presently in the Constitution prevents a child from praying in school, but a school prayer amendment would make it an organized activity which would seriously undermine” the church-state separation principle in the First Amendment.
The conference comprises representatives of the AJCongress, American Mizrachi Women, B’nai B’rith Women, Emunah Women of America, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women, National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, National Ladies Auxiliary of the Jewish War Veterans, Pioneer Women/Naamat, Women’s American ORT, Women’s Branch of the Orthodox Union, and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.
Hadassah and Pioneer Women/Naamat also issued separate statements opposing a constitutional amendment for “moments of silence” in public schools.
ATTITUDE BY JEWISH RELIGIOUS GROUPS
The Agudath Israel of America stated that “in principle” the Orthodox agency “favors the return of American society to religious beliefs and values, and we feel that prayer in public schools could indeed serve as a vehicle to elevate the tone of religion in this country.
“On the other hand, we oppose any constitutional amendment … which is couched in terms that would leave the door open for the institution of sectarian prayer in public schools by parents or other groups with vested interests” or amendments “which would encourage classroom disputes and the unwarranted intrusion of any particular ‘majority religion’.”
The Rabbinical Assembly of America, the United Synagogue of America and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism issued a joint statement saying that the place for prayers is in the home and in the houses of worship.
It pointed out that “at the heart of American democracy is the principle of reverence for religious pluralism. This is best achieved by an official neutrality towards all religions.” The introduction of prayers in public schools “through government fiat creates the danger of tearing apart the fabric of American society” based on religious pluralism.