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Reagan Reiterates Call for School Prayer, Abortion Ban

January 27, 1988
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In his seventh and final State of the Union address, President Reagan reiterated Monday night his desires for Congress to approve constitutional amendments allowing organized prayer in public schools and prohibiting abortion.

Reagan said the anti-abortion legislation should make an exception "where the unborn child is threatens the life of the mother. Our Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes the right of taking a life in self-defense."

On prayer in public schools, Reagan argued that Congress and the Supreme Court open each day’s proceedings with a prayer, "yet we are denied the right to set aside in our schools a moment each day for those who wish to pray."

The speech did not touch on U.S. policy in the Middle East.

One of the most animated moments during the speech was when he displayed the 14-pound, $600 billion catch-all appropriations bill approved by Congress in December. Congress lumped all government appropriations into the bill in order to save time as it approached its Christmas 1987 adjournment.


Included in that bill was $8 million for Ozar Hatorah, a New York-based Orthodox Jewish organization, to build yeshivas in Paris and its suburbs for North African Jewish emigres to France.

The allocation has been controversial, and its sponsor, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), has come under harsh criticism.

John Powell, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said Tuesday that his group intends to file suit the week of Feb. I challenging the constitutionality of that legislation.

Powell contended that it violates the constitutional separation of church and state, noting the allocation would be clearly illegal if done in the United States.

Major Jewish organizations had differing reactions. Samuel Rabinove, the American Jewish Committee’s legal director, said Tuesday that AJCommittee has not taken a position on the issue, but that he "was prepared to recommend that we support what the ACLU is planning to do."

In contrast, Steven Freeman, assistant director of legal affairs for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said his group has no plans to consider the controversy.

Mare Stern, co-director of legal affairs for the American Jewish Congress, said his organization had no public position on the matter, but declined to say whether it is considering getting involved.

Rabinove emphasized that for 15 years the U.S. government has provided money to religious schools abroad through a previously little known program of the Agency for International Development — American Schools and Hospitals Abroad.

The New York Times reported Jan. 24 that Israeli schools receiving U.S. aid since 1983 include Ohr Samayach, a girls’ affiliate of a Jerusalem yeshiva, which received $2 million; the Beth Rivka Comprehensive Schools, a Hasidic girls’ schools that received $750,000; American College of Belz, a Hasidic college in Jerusalem that received $500,000; and Shaalvim Teacher’s College, which trains teachers for Hebrew and day schools and yeshivas, which received $400,000.

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