Jewish Groups Denounce Reagan’s Remarks That Opponents of School Prayer Are Intolerant of Religion

Jewish organizations denounced in strong terms today the comments by President Reagan at a prayer breakfast in Dallas last Thursday in which the President charged that those who opposed such expressions of religion as voluntary prayer in public schools were “intolerant of religion.”

Rabbi Mordecai Waxman of Great Neck, N.Y., the president of the Synagogue Council of America, which represents the rabbinic and congregational agencies of Reform Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, said “religion is and should be a private commitment of people to God and to their religious institutions.”

Waxman also asserted that the state should provide the atmosphere within which religion should flourish.” But, he added, “it is contrary to American tradition and to the interest of American society that the state should take the obtrusive position which is proposed by deliberately advancing religious behavior.”

Asserting that political figures “are called upon to represent the electorate as a whole, “Waxman declared that” to make politicians representatives of specific religious bodies is to make religious affiliation and discrimination issues once again in a society which has begun to overcome them.” He said religion had been injected into the Presidential campaign by both the Republican and Democratic parties and that this had created a division within America.

SAYS REAGAN IS ‘CHRISTIANIZING’ AMERICA

Rabbi Alexander Shapiro of South Orange, N.J., president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, accused Reagan of “Christianizing” America and even reading out of the American democratic system those who do not believe in religion or God.

Shapiro declared that Reagan’s views are “totally contrary to our country’s traditional separation of church and state,” adding that Reagan believed “that politics and religion are inseparable but only providing that the moral mandate expressed agrees with his views.” He said for President Reagan, “if you disagree, you are immoral.”

The rabbi said that this means that religions which agree with the President’s views “are on the side of righteousness” and he called such an interpretation of religion “dangerous.” He added that the idea “that the state would even arrogate to itself the right to make moral judgements that religious leaders struggle with is an essential infringement on religious liberty.”

WARNS OF THREAT TO THE CONSTITUTION

Howard Friedman, president of the American Jewish Committee, said the “freedom and tolerance” created by adherance to the Constitutional mandate of state church separation “would be severely threatened if the State became actively involved in religion in ways that Mr. Reagan and his supporters advocate.”

Friedman said “they support not freedom to worship, but the organization of prayer in the public schools” which he said would put “powerful pressure on students to worship in prescribed ways and would deter the expression of other authentic freedoms. In the same way, publicly-owned displays of religious symbols put the govemment behind particular forms of religious expression and ignore others.”

Friedman added: “It is indeed ironic that a conservative President would seek to alter Constitutional principles.”

Theodore Mann, president of the American Jewish Congress, said that the President’s charges betray “a gross misunderstanding of our Constitution and of the importance it has in the lives of all Americans. Does he really mean that the dozens of Baptist, Episcopalian, Jewish, Lutheran, Unitarian, Methodist and Presbyterian groups who have fought against prayer in the public schools are seeking to undermine the importance of religion in our lives?” Mann called this “absurd on its face.”

He declared that the President “owes an obligation to respect the religious sensibilities of those millions of Americans who take their religion seriously and, precisely for that reason, believe that the place for religious prayer and practice is in the home and church and not in the public schools.”

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