NEW YORK (Sep. 5)
American religious leaders of various faiths warned today against the injection of religion into the current Presidential campaign by both President Reagan and leaders of the Democratic party.
They maintained that the principle of separation of church and state must be preserved to allow the freedom of religion to “flourish” in America. They especially wamed against the introduction of prayers in schools, claiming it will tamper with the First Amendment.
At a press conference at the American Jewish Committee’s headquarters here, leaders of the Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Baptist communities issued a joint statement urging leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties to oppose “any and all efforts, whether direct or subtle, to tamper with the First Amendment.
“We call on leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties to reject categorically the pernicious notion that only one brand of politics or religion meets with God’s approval and that others are necessarily evil.”
The statement continued: “We urge them to speak out now and recommend both major parties to the spirit of religious tolerance and religious fore-bearance that is indispensable to a free society.”
The statement was signed by Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, president of the Synagoue Council of America; Dr. Claire Randall, general secretary of the national Council of Churches of Christ in U.S.A.; Sister Margaret Ellen Traxler, the founder and past president of the National Coalition of American Nuns and executive director of the Institute of Women Today; and Rev. Dr. James Dunn, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.
“We regret to say that there has been a serious erosion of governmental commitment to the constitional principle of separation from religion from government,” the religious leaders stated. They added:
“If the principle of separation of church and state is to have substance in America, it must mean at least this: the state should not behave as if it were a church or synagogue. It should not do for citizens what, in their rightful free exercise of religion, they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves.
“For government to intrude itself into religious practices or to seek to impose certain religious belief or values on citizens who do not share them, is a clear and present danger to America for all faiths. In sum, the state should be neutral, not partisan, in matters religious.”
The statement also pointed out, “Some of our citizens seem to imagine that America officially is a Christian republic. Yet in the Constitution of the United States there is no mention of Jesus and, in fact, no mention of God either. Because most of the founders were influenced by Christianity, these omissions from that splendid document scarcely were inadvertent.”
CONCERNS OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Waxman elaborated on the concerns of the Jewish community in America. He said: “Most American Jews are greatly disturbed by the fact that in the political campaign religion has become an issue, in that there seems to be a debate about the ‘Christian’ character of candidates and platforms, and that anti-Semitic attitudes have been expressed.”
On the issue of prayers in schools, Waxman said: “The question of prayer and the meeting of religious groups in public schools has become issues to the point where a constitutional amendment is being called for to override the intentions of the Bill of Rights which has served America magnificently over almost two centuries.”