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2 Top B’nai B’rith Leaders Say Reagan’s Explanation of His Views on Religion is Not Satisfactory

Two top officials of B’nai B’rith International said, after President Reagan addressed the B’nai B’rith convention last Thursday, that they had not been satisfied by the President’s explanation of his controversial views on the relation of religion to the state.

Gerald Kraft, B’nai B’rith president, said Jews were “concerned that in the Administration’s approach, that there is this implied, unnecessary pressure to conform” on religious matters. He said that “nothing” President Reagan said in his speech to the convention “addressed that concern in my opinion.”

Daniel Thursz, the agency’s executive vice-president, said the speech by Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale, who spoke first Thursday morning, largely on the religious issue, “restated a philosophy with which we agree. I think he was clear. He was eloquent.”

Thursz said that the President, by contrast, spoke in more general philosophical terms about the importance of separating church and state but, he added, “philosophy is not going to be enough to satisfy the Jewish community.”

The concerns cited by Thursz and some delegates involved the President’s support of organized prayer in public schools, his backing for inclusion of Nativity scenes in public Yule displays, and his signing recently of a measure to enable religious groups to use public school facilities for meetings.

REAGAN’S RESPONSE TO ADL QUERY

Meanwhile, Reagan, in a statement in response to a letter from Kenneth Bialkin, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said he is “opposed to organized, formal prayer at prescribed times” in the public schools.

Bialkin, who asked whether prayers or religious observance should be officially sanctioned in state operated schools, said his letter to Reagan was prompted by the President’s speech at an ecumenical prayer breakfast in Dallas last month, characterizing such opponents as “attacking religion.”

Reagan’s letter, dated September 2, “Aboard Air Force I,” released by the ADL over this weekend, said, in part:

“I regret very much that the school prayer debate in the Congress came out as an argument for or against some kind of organized, formal prayer at prescribed times. I’ve never envisioned such a thing and, if I were a parent of public school children, would express myself as opposed to that. Let me interject for a moment here my belief that such things should be determined at the local level where parents can be heard from.”

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