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U.S. Reports to United Nations on Religious Rights of American Jews

January 29, 1960
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Bible reading in public schools, the "released time" practice under which public school pupils are excused for religious study, and Sunday closing laws, are the foremost problems in the field of religious rights and practices of present concern to American Jews, according to a report submitted by the United States to the United Nations.

The report is one of 86 similar documents provided by 86 governments as background for a worldwide survey of religious rights and practices conducted by the UN Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

Two figures are provided in the report regarding the size of the American Jewish population. Statistics compiled by the United States Census Bureau, on the basis of a sample survey made in March, 1957, list the number of Jewish civilians, 14 years of age and over, as 3,868,000, or 3.2 percent of the total comparable population in the U.S.A. The report, however, also cites figures provided by the World Union for Progressive Judaism, showing that there are 5,200,000 Jews in the United States. The latter includes children.

The report declares that "such questions as the reading of the Bible in public school classrooms for religious instruction, and the accommodation of public school schedules to a program involving the release of students from class to attend instruction in their particular denomination, have given rise to controversy."

On Bible reading, the report quotes the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, a body accredited here as having consultative status. It represents B’nai B’rith, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the South African Board of Jewish Deputies. The Jewish group declares:

"It is now legally possible to engage in this practice (Bible reading) in 37 states: 13 states and the District of Columbia require it; 11 states permit it; and 13 states make no mention of the Bible at all in their schools laws. Only 11 states expressly prohibit reading the Bible in public schools."


The report cites an expert as stating that "the organized Jewish community is overwhelmingly opposed in principle to the practice of Bible reading in the public schools." Listed among these opponents are the Synagogue Council of America and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

According to the report, "some form of ‘released time’ program exists in communities in 43 states. In 10 of these states, ‘released time’ is legalized either by statutes or by court decisions." It declares that "the Jewish community almost uniformly opposes" the "released time" programs.

Sunday closing laws, "prohibiting or restraining certain activities on this day, " are reported to exist "in some form" in every state in the Union, The report declares that "opposition to these laws comes mainly from Jews and Seventh Day Adventists who wish to observe Saturday as the Sabbath."

On the question of enforcement of the Sunday laws, the report cites a statement by the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, which declares: "The laws are only sporadically enforced; and, when they are, conviction or acquittal is as likely to follow on the piety of a Jurist as on his knowledge of the law."

In general, the American report shows that the U. S. Constitution, backed by the courts, upholds absolute freedom of religious rights and practices in the United States, and guards the principle of separation of Church and State. One limitation on Constitutional protections is noted by the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, which points out: "The Federal Constitution, and the majority of State Constitutions, protect the individual only against Government action. If he suffers discrimination at the hands of an individual, or a group, he cannot seek Constitutional protection. "

The Board adds, however, that "Nineteen states have enacted civil rights laws, under which private persons who operate places of public accommodation are enjoined from practicing discrimination on the basis of race, color, or religion. Federal statutes similarly provide for criminal prosecution of persons who conspire to deprive any person of Constitutionally protected rights. "

Certain "exclusionary" provisions in some laws are also cited. It is reported that New Hampshire has a Constitutional provision, not enforced, limiting certain offices to Protestants. In some states, "theistic belief" is required of office holders. Two states ban "ministers of the Gospel" from serving in their legislatures.

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