Major Jewish organizations in New York expressed support today of instructions by Associate Superintendent Florence S. Beaumont to public school principals to ban the use of religious symbols such as crosses, candles and stars from school observances of Chanukah and Christmas. The list of instructions also included a ban on combined Chanukah-Christmas celebrations because the two holidays were not related.
Support was expressed in the wake of an order by Board of Education president Charles H. Silver to investigate the list and its issuance by Miss Beaumont. Some of the groups specifically scored Mr. Silver for ordering the inquiry into what was termed Miss Beaumont’s upholding American constitutional principles of separation of church and state Superintendent of Schools William Jansen, after conferring with Miss Beaumont, noted that the instructions were two years old and were merely a restatement of administrative policy adopted by the Board of Superintendents, of which Miss Beaumont is one of eight members.
In a statement sharply critical of Mr. Silver for ordering a probe of Miss Beaumont, the president of the New York Council of the American Jewish Congress, Nathan B. Kogan, declared: “Miss Beaumont in issuing her memorandum was obviously attempting to avoid practices that would compel children, in violation of conscience, to take part in or be present at religious observances of another faith. Her directive to the elementary school principals was therefore amply justified and consonant with the constitutional guarantees of religious liberty.”
The New York Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, through Robert Sterling, chairman of its interrelations affairs unit, specifically noted that it did not address itself to the Beaumont incident, regretted that “a public issue is being made of religious holiday observances in the schools,” but asserted that “any attempt to introduce religious doctrine into the curriculum of the public schools may create controversy and divisive inter-group tension, as the current episode clearly demonstrates.” Mr. Sterling stressed that the AJC has long since adopted the position that the maintenance and furtherance of religion are responsibilities of the church, the synagogue and the home, and not of the public schools.”
Sydney A. Hellenbrand, chairman of the Anti-Defamation league’s New York Advisory Board, called Miss Beaumont’s order a “sensible directive, ” asserting that barring religious symbols from schools “is a means of protecting religion, not rejecting it.” Sectarian indoctrination and observances “should be left to the churches and synagogues,” he suggested.
A statement by the New York Board of Rabbis, which speaks for Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis in the New York area, declared: “The New York Board of Rabbis is on principle deeply opposed to religious holiday celebrations in the public schools. We believe that such celebrations violate the religious freedom of children or other faiths and cause embarrassment and discomfort to them. The public schools should always remain completely non-sectarian. For that reason we commend Miss Florence S. Beaumont, Associate Superintendent of Schools, for her action in calling the attention of the public school principals to the requirement of our Constitution and laws that ‘no stress should be placed on the doctrinal aspects of the observance nor should religious symbols be displayed.
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.