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American Jewish Committee Proposes Comparative Religion in High Schools

May 4, 1964
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The five-day annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee concluded here today with a proposal by Morris B. Abram, who was re-elected president of the organization, to institute teaching of courses in comparative religion in the 25,000 public high schools in the United States.

“While the American Jewish Committee remained opposed to religious observances in public schools, it has long ago adopted a policy of recognizing the educational value of teaching about the major religions, their history and tradition in the country.” Mr. Abram told the 1,100 delegates at the concluding session.

Mr. Abram’s program was set forth in the context of the current controversy over religious observance in the public school system. Central to Mr. Abram’s proposal on teaching courses in comparative religions was that the public school system would present “courses in religion solely from the historic and literary perspective.” He stressed that the “courses were not religious in the sense of observance or ritual, but were to be designed as strictly educational curricula.” The courses would be offered as electives to high school seniors.

In describing the design of these courses, Mr. Abram said the national educational program on religion would be “prepared by objective and knowledgeable educators.” He added that “religious scholars could then be involved in a consultative capacity,” but stressed that “organized religious denominations as such would not participate in the preparation of the courses.”

Mr. Abram said that the Committee had developed this proposal to deal with the “many books which existed in the way of objective education about religion.” He said that “few high school teachers are adequately trained to teach a course about religions.” Further, he said, “there is a lack of suitable teaching materials for classroom use.”

As part of the proposal Mr. Abram pointed out that only expert scholars and lecturers would be capable of compiling and developing the course. Therefore, “a film series prepared under their direction could be circulated throughout the country was the ideal means of making this specialized knowledge available to the local classroom,” he said.


Mr. Abram also made public the results of a three-year study at St. Louis University analyzing the contents of Catholic religion textbooks most widely used in parochial school systems throughout the United States. The study shows that negative and distorted statements are to be found there in the textbooks when referring to Jews and other non-Catholic religious groups. The St. Louis University is a Jesuit institution.

The study also offers concrete suggestions for avoiding distortions in Catholic teachings about Protestants and Jews, and concludes that recently published materials are more constructive in their approach to intergroup themes than the older textbooks. The study was carried out by Sister Rose Albert Thering.

Mr. Abram pointed out that the American Jewish Committee also stimulated the seven-year self-study of Protestant materials which was completed at Yale University Divinity School and published last year. A Jewish self-study has been completed at Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning and its findings will soon be made public.

The St. Louis Study reveals that Catholic religious textbooks mention other groups to a substantial degree. Sixty-five volumes were analyzed, comprising seven basic religion series; two church histories; one guidance series; four supplementary volumes; and the manuals of teacher’s guidebooks accompanying them. For purposes of analysis, these were broken down into 2,790 lesson units.

The study revealed that of all groups mentioned in the textbooks, Jews are by far the most conspicuous. References to Jews and Judaism ranged from one-quarter to more than one-half of the basic textbook series. Protestants were the second most visible group mentioned in the textbooks. The study indicates that negative comments regarding Protestants and Jews tend to concentrate around certain themes, particularly those dealing with historic conflicts.

For Jews, negative references tended to concentrate around the following themes; 1. The Jewish rejection of Christianity; 2. The Crucifixion; 3. The Pharisees. Positive references to Jews abound in comments associated with the Old Testament heritage of Judaism, which is also the heritage of the Roman Catholic Church. For example, one religious text states: “Catholics of the world, regardless of their nationality, are all spiritually Semites, we are all children of Israel.”

The St. Louis study offers recommendations for avoiding distortions and bias in teachings about Protestants and Jews. It cautions against generalizations, oversimplifications and overall judgments of an entire group.


One of the sessions of the American Jewish Committee’s annual meeting was devoted to reports on the anti-Jewish activities abroad, based on material provided by the Committee’s overseas offices. Ralph Friedman, chairman of the executive board, reported that an

1. A highly accelerated campaign by Arab League offices and personnel in South America backed by “unlimited funds and carried out with top level propaganda skill,” which is fomenting a massive campaign of hatred not only against Israel but also of a general anti-Semitic character.

2. Efforts by European neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing groups to renew notorious anti-Semitic themes, particularly in relation to the forthcoming third session of the Ecumenical Council in Rome. Arab propagandists are intensifying their activities in Europe, particularly West Germany.

3. The growth of an “anti-Semitic publication network” which has made significant gains during the past years with the appearance of new neo-Nazi anti-Semitic publications in Western Germany, France and Spain.

Mr. Friedman cited data and reports provided by Zachariah Shuster, director of the Committee’s European office, which has conducted a study of neo-Nazi activities in Europe during the past year. Mr. Shuster, who is in this country currently in connection with the annual meeting, reported that neo-Nazi groups are renewing “notorious anti-Semitic themes as part of their propaganda assaults on the Ecumenical Council which is scheduled to reopen its sessions in September 1964.”

The publication network of European extremist groups which has made significant gains in the past year, Mr. Shuster said, means that “practically every country in Europe has at least one anti-Semitic publication appearing regularly.” These publications have a hard core of readers and support those who seek vigorously to influence others with anti-democratic and anti-Jewish propaganda.

Abraham Monk, director of the Committee’s Latin American office, drew particular attention to what he called “a massive campaign of hatred conducted by the Arab League with huge unlimited funds and a generous supply of all kinds of mass media resources.” At the same time, however, he pointed out that the Argentine Government has taken strong measures against Tacuara, the underground neo-Nazi fascist group which is working jointly with the Arab League in “spreading hate and creating so much divisiveness among the Argentine people.”

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