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Jewish Organizations Incensed over Jesuit ‘warning’ to U.S. Jews

August 28, 1962
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

National Jewish organizations were incensed today over an editoeial in the current issue of the Jesuit weekly magazine “America” warning the Jews that their support of the Supreme Court ruling outlawing the New York Regents prayer from public schools might lead to an outbreak of anti-Semitism in this country.

The American Jewish Congress and other Jewish groups mentioned by name in the editorial, issued statements assailing the editorial in the Jesuit organ. Other major Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee and the National Community Relations Advisory Council which speaks in the name of a number of Jewish national and local bodies, were contemplating the issuance of similar severe statements against the article which they considered as a threat to Jews.

The editorial, which is expected to provoke protests also on the part of non-Jewish groups, asserted that there have been “disturbing hints of heightened anti-Semitic feelings” since the Supreme Court’s school prayer ruling of June 25. This, the article indicated, has come about because Jews were among those petitioning the court to bar the prayer. Other religious observances in public schools, said the magazine, may soon be declared unconstitutional “with the help of some important Jewish groups.”


Declaring that the Jewish community was not unanimous in supporting the Supreme Court ruling and in other efforts to remove religious observances from public schools, the Jesuit organ blamed especially the American Jewish Congress and its general counsel Leo Pfeffer for activities to secure the removal of religion from public schools, as well as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

“These Jewish agencies,” the editorial said, “make no secret of their view that ‘a favorable climate of opinion’ will help stop legislation providing grants or loans to church-related institutions of higher learning. Such a ‘climate’ is also seen as favoring the passage of bills that would provide Federal aid to public but not to parochial schools. Conceivably, with help from some important Jewish groups, the recitation of the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ as well as the reading of passages from the Bible in the public schools, can and may, in the near future, be declared unconstitutional.

“We wonder, therefore, whether it is not time for provident leaders of American Judaism to ask their more militant colleagues whether what is gained through the courts by such victories is worth the breakdown of community relations which will inevitably follow them. What will have been accomplished if our Jewish friends win all the legal immunities they seek, but thereby paint themselves into a corner of social and cultural alienation?

“The time has come for these fellow citizens of ours to decide among themselves precisely what they conceive to be the final objective of the Jewish community in the United States–in a word, what bargain they are willing to strike as one of the minorities in a pluralistic society. When court victories produce only a harvest of fear and distrust, will it all have been worthwhile?” the Jesuit organ declared.


Dr. Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, in a statement replying to the Jesuit publication, said: “It is a sorry day for religious liberty in the United States when an effort to protect the guarantees of the First Amendment should evoke thinly veiled threats of anti-Semitism from so respectable a journal of opinion as ‘America.’

“The American Jewish Congress is proud of its program carried on for the last 20 years in the courts, the legislatures, the public schools and in the public arena to protect all Americans from state-imposed religious exercises in the public schools. We will not abandon the effort to keep the state neutral in all religious matters regardless of such attacks, particularly when that effort is now evoking wide support from Jew and non-Jew alike.

“We believe firmly in prayer and we believe firmly in religious observances but we believe equally firmly that the place for prayer and such observances is in the home, in the synagogue or the church. The day that the state begins to foster religious beliefs and religious observances even by so-called non-denominational exercises will mark the first step in the weakening of religious groups in our country and the decline of true religious belief.”

Leo Pfeffer, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, issued a statement saying: “It is disquieting that the editors of ‘America’ should apparently impose as a condition for the avoidance of anti-Semitism that Jews forego their right to seek judicial determination of their constitutional liberties. In the guise of predicting anti-Semitism, they are in fact encouraging it.” He emphasized that the Jesuit organ omitted to mention that those supporting the Supreme Court ruling included also President Kennedy; the Joint Baptist Committee on Public Affairs, which represents 17,000,000 Protestants; ‘The Christian Century,’ which is the leading Protestant publication in the United States; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the publications of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City, Mo. and Portland, Me.; Father Hemle, dean at the Jesuit institution, St. Louis University; as well as the leading newspapers in the United States.”


Rabbi Sidney L. Regner, executive vice-president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Albert Vorspan, director of Social Action of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, issued the following statement on behalf of the two organizations:

“The organizations of Reform Judaism react with chagrin and disappointment to the recent editorial in ‘America.’ This customarily liberal publication, noted for the breadth and fairness of its views, has seen fit now to issue a threatening and patronizing statement to the Jewish community. This editorial implies that, if the Jewish community continues to support the decision of the Supreme Court and implementation of American constitutional liberties, it will call down upon itself the wrath of anti-Semitism.

“In the guise of a kindly warning, ‘America’ is encouraging the very evil it claims to be trying to avert. It is not the United States Supreme Court, nor those who support the law of the land, who are arousing religious tension in America. If there is a ‘harvest of fear’ in America, it is caused by those who have planted the seeds in a highly charged emotional attack upon those who support the Supreme Court decision.”

The two central bodies of American Reform Jewry pointed out in their Joint statement that they are organizations of rabbis and Reform Jewish congregations devoted to the teaching of religion and the strengthening of religious faith. “Religious observances belong in the home, the church and the synagogue.” The statement emphasized that the position on the separation of church and state is shared by many Americans of all faiths and transcends the interests of any particular group.

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