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140 to Appear at Congressional Hearings on Religion in Public Schools

April 24, 1964
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Rep. Emanuel Celler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, declared here today he hoped the American public would “think twice” about a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution, which would permit prayers and Bible reading in the public schools.

He made that statement as he opened the second day of hearings on the issue, with 140 proponents and opponents of the constitutional change scheduled to be heard, The issue had been stated yesterday by Rep. Frank J. Becker, New York Republican, proponent of an amendment which, he said, was “designed to guarantee permanently the right to pray and read Holy Scripture in the public schools of our nation. “

“This is like an iceberg,” said Rep, Celler, in resuming the hearings today, “There are a few simple words on top, but a lot of repercussions underneath. ” Congressman John V. Lindsey, New York Republican, supported Rep. Celler, saying: “I hope members who seriously question the issue raised here are not going to be charged with being anti-God. ” Another New Yorker, Rep. Jacob H. Gilbert, Democrat, warned “do not make this seem a battle between the godly and the godless. “

Meanwhile, however, proponents of a constitutional change–which would negate the U. S. Supreme Court’s ban against school prayers and Bible reading–told the committee that the Constitution must be amended in this manner. Rep. Louis C. Wyman, New Hampshire Republican, conceded under questioning that such a change might result in “slight erosion” of the First Amendment of the Constitution.


Congressman Howard V. Smith, of Virginia, warned the committee that, if it does not approve the proposed Becker amendment, it would be bypassed, with the issue going directly to the floor of the House of Representatives. Rep. Becker has 167 signatures for such a discharge petition now. He would need 218 signatures to take the issue out of the hands of the Judiciary Committee.

Another Congressman, Rep. George Fallon, Maryland Democrat, testifying for the Becker amendment, told the committee he has petitions signed by 40, 000 constituents, urging the restoration of the right to pray in public schools. Rep. Charlotte Reid, Republican of Illinois, said in his testimony that the issue is “either we are children of God or not” Rep. J, Edgar Chenoweth, Colorado Republican, said his heavy mail runs 99 to 1 in favor of the Becker move.

The pro-amendment forces were criticized by Rep. William Cahill, New Jersey Republican, who asked why the Becker proposal does not specify that prayers should be non-denominational .

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