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Jewish Senator Baited by Colleague

November 18, 1981
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Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D. Ohio) was called the “Senator from B’nai B’rith” during a debate on the Senate floor yesterday. The remark was made by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D. SC) during a heated debate over legislation supporting voluntary prayer in public schools. The Senate adopted the measure which would prevent the Justice Department from blocking programs of voluntary prayer or meditation in public schools.

While Hollings was speaking in support of the measure, Metzenbaum and several other Senators interrupted to challenge him. “The questioning will now be done by the Senator from B’nai B’rith,” Hollings said.

Metzenbaum immediately replied, “I resent the remark of the Senator from South Carolina and he will address me as the Senator from Ohio.” The custom of the Senate is for Senators to address each other by naming the state which they represent.

“I will address the Senator as the Senator from Ohio,” Hollings said. Later in the debate, Metzenbaum said he wanted to “address myself to this issue with a bit of sadness — a little sadness by reason of being embarrassed for my friend whom I thought used bad taste in reference to the Senator from Ohio and I am embarrassed for him.”

SOLON EXPLAINS HIS REMARK

Hollings replied that he made his remark “only in a moment of levity. I apologize to the Senator. It was not just making fun. I was just being besieged from all sides. I was referring to the Senator as a friend and not anything in his religion. That would be my last intent. The Senator knows my respect for him and my respect for his religion.” Metzenbaum expressed his appreciation for Holling’s later remarks.

Sen. Lowell Weicker (R. Conn.), who was leading the opposition to the school prayer measure, said Hollings’ remark may have been a “good thing. It makes us all understand why religion should not be debated on this floor.”

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