The historic decision of the United States Supreme Court, barring prayers in the public schools, was greeted today with unanimous acclaim by Jewish organizations, criticism from Catholic spokesmen and a mixed reaction from the Protestant community.
The Synagogue Council of America, coordinating body of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbinical and congregational organizations, in a statement issued by its president, Dr. Julius Mark, senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, New York, emphasized that it has consistently opposed prayers in the public schools.
“It has been our belief that prayer of any sort should be festered in the home, church and synagogue and that public institutions such as the public school should be free of such sectarian practices,” the statement said. “We have further held to the belief that prayer of ‘common core’ can only lead to a watering down of all that is spiritually meaningful in every religious faith. We therefore are encouraged by the language and decision of the Supreme Court in making it eminently clear that one can be committed to a specific religion and at the same time be careful not to impose his religious beliefs on those who may not believe as we do.
“Deeply mindful of what the separation of church and state has meant and means for the unfettered development of religion and the enrichment of democracy and as religionists dedicated with heart and hand to the service of God and our fellow man, we welcome the decision of the United States. This decision is a challenge to all religiously minded people, clergy and laymen alike, to redouble their efforts in spiritualizing the homes of America. Religion becomes meaningful not only when it is taught in churches and synagogues but when it is practiced daily in the homes, ” the Synagogue Council statement concluded.
The New York Board of Rabbis, representing the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbinate of Greater New York, lauded the ruling and said “the recitation of prayers in the public schools, which is tantamount to the teaching of prayer, is not in conformity with the spirit of the American concept of the separation of church and state. All the religious groups in this country will best advance their respective faiths by adherence to this principle.”
AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE, JEWISH CONGRESS, A. D. L. HAIL DECISION
The American Jewish Committee, in a statement from its president, A.M. Sonnabend, declared: “In ruling unconstitutional the prayer sponsored by the Board of Regents in New York public schools, the Supreme Court has affirmed that prayer in our democratic society is a matter for the home, synagogue and church, and not for the state institutions.
“We particularly welcome the court’s decision because in the case of the Regents’ Prayer, a state agency undertook to evaluate the religious needs of the student population of the public schools and to establish the means of satisfying such needs. This action, in our opinion, disregarded a basic precept of the American Constitution and the American way of life-that there shall be separation of the institutions and functions of the state and church,” the statement declared.
The American Jewish Congress termed the decision one “consistent with the prior decisions of the Supreme Court declaring that the Constitution requires the absolute separation of church and state and a secular school system.” The statement added that “all persons committed to full religious freedom should hail this decision as a great milestone in the struggle for religious freedom.” Leo Pfeffer, general counsel of the organization, said that the decision might lead to the discontinuance of Christmas, Eister, Purim and Chanukah observances in public schools.
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith called the ruling “a splendid reaffirmation of a basic American principle. The ruling adds another safeguard for freedom of religion in the United States. It will preserve public schools from involvement in religious conflicts and competition, and will encourage religious education and commitment in the home, church or synagogue.”
The National Community Relations Advisory Council, coordinating body of six national Jewish organizations and 62 local community relations councils, noted that the decision of. the Supreme Court followed closely the arguments presented in a brief submitted for the NCRAC and the Synagogue Council of America. The brief had argued that “the privilege of non-participation by pupils in prayer is, by reason of the nature of the public school system and of children, illusory rather than real” and that, in any case, the practice infringes on the First Amendment’s ban on laws respecting an establishment of religion.”
Nearly half of all United States public schools practice Bible reading and about 20 percent of the 35,000 school districts in the United States require some teaching “about religion.” A flood of court tests was expected as friends and foes of such practices in public schools set about testing the general impact of the decision, dealing with a New York case, on the country’s schools generally.
The text of the banned prayer is: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.