I Support the Becker Amendment
By Dr, Carl McIntire
Editor Christian Beacon The Testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, on behalf of the right to pray and read the Bible in public school, May 13, 1964.
Gentlemen, Mr. Chairman, Honorable Members of the House Judiciary Committee:
I am grateful for the opportunity to appear before you. I support the Becker Amendment.
The approach that this Amendment makes is, I believe, the proper one, and will again permit the reading of the Bible and the offering of prayers in the public schools.
May I make it explicitly clear
First, we do not want the First Amendment in any way changed, or rephrased.
Second, we do not want the wall of separation of Church and State as protected by the First Amendment in any way to be eroded or compromised.
Third, we ask only that the situation be returned to where it was before the Supreme Court's decision of June 17, 1963.
The Supreme Court's interpretation of the First Amendment in its establishment clause went too far as it relates to God, the Bible and prayer.
The approach made by the Becker Amendment adds absolutely nothing in substance to the Constitution. The approach is simply that "nothing in this Constitution shall be deemed to prohibit the offering, reading from, or listening to prayers, etc In Section 2 the same approach is made: "Nothing in this Constitution shall be deemed to prohibit making reference to belief in, reliance upon, or invoking the aid of God, or a Supreme Being, etc ......
This protects the people from any further application of the Supreme Court's thesis of "neutrality" as it pertains to the nation's recognition of Almighty God.
The Becker Amendment in effect returns again to the areas protected by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments what the Supreme Court removed from these areas by its interpretation of the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment.
The Ninth Amendment reads, "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
The Tenth Amendment reads. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."
We Do Not Approve an Official Required Prayer Composed by Government
It seems to me therefore that the responsibility of Congress in this field is very limited indeed. Congress, cannot establish a religion. Congress cannot make or legislate or impose an official prayer. It is not the responsibility of this Committee in any wise to determine what version of the Bible shall be used in the schools of the land under a proposed amendment. All such questions are covered in the Constitution under the reserved rights given to the people.
In the application of the first ten amendments to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment,. as interpreted by the Supreme Court, I find myself in agreement with the main point of the Court's decision in the New York Regents' case, June 25, 1962. There the State of New York through its Board of Regents sought to establish an official prayer written by an agency of the state. This was drafted in an effort to reach a least common denominator for various faiths. The majority opinion said, "We think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government."
Under the pattern set by the State of New York this was the only prayer allowed and there would have soon developed in the United States the New York prayer, the Pennsylvania prayer, etc., and there could have been compiled a book of the official state prayers.
The approach in drafting the prayer was not on the basis of reaching God with a petition, but in placating various religious interests, and, in attempting to satisfy all, it satisfied very few. For instance, the definition of prayer as contained in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Weminster Assembly, which is the Confession of the Bible Presbyterian Church, to which I belong, reads as follows: "Question 98 (Shorter Catechism) -What is Prayer? Answer- Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies."
The Regents' prayer was most unsatisfactory, and I was among those who at the time spoke and wrote against it.
But We Oppose Forbidding All Prayer
When, however, the Supreme Court on June 17, 1963, in the Schempp and Murray cases ruled that the prayer composed by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, the Lord's Prayer as it is called, could not be prayed, and that even the Bible itself could not be read in the public schools, it was clear that the issue was God and prayer per se. The Court said: "Further, it is no defense to urge that the religious practices here may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment. The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent." And the Court concluded, "In the relationship between man and religion, the state is firmly committed to a position of neutrality."
On the basis of this decision, prayer, any prayer, the briefest prayer, such as "0 God, save our nation," in the public schools is a religious activity and a violation of the First Amendment.
At this point I vigorously opposed the Supreme Court's decision. The Court's opinion demoted God from His place of recognition, honor, and authority to the level of Shakespeare and Dante, where He and His Word, the Bible, could become only a subject of literary criticism, historical study, or even reference in library.
I come now; therefore, to plead with this Committee for the recommendation to the Congress of an amendment which will return the right to recognize God and to pray to God in the public schools and to protect the same in our national life, which has been our heritage as a free people.
Mr. Justice Stewart, in his dissenting opinion in the New York State Regents' case, June 25, 1962, emphasized particularly this point. He wrote: "What is relevant to the issue here is not the history of an established church in 16 th century England or in I 8th century America, but the history of the religious traditions of our people, reflected in countless practices of the institutions and officials of our Government."
The problem, therefore, as I see it is to protect the people from official state prayers, state composed and prescribed prayers, and at the same time grant to the people the liberty that has always been theirs under the reserved rights and that has reflected itself in practices in our institutions and by officials of our Government.
Or, again, from another angle, the establishment clause must not be used to limit the free exercise of religion on the part of the people themselves. In the current debate over this question the words "religion," "worship," and similar phrases are being so broadly used as to give the impression that those of us who favor the Becker Amendment are in favor of bringing church established modes of worship into the public schools for opening religious exercises.
The brief morning activities of a devotional nature, including the salute to the flag and the pledge of allegiance which have been practiced in the schools in various states, did not constitute church services of public worship. They have not included the singing of the Doxology, the Te Deum, or listening to a sermon or theological exposition, or the taking of a collection for. missionary endeavors, Nothing of this sort has been envisioned.
We are not asking for the ritual of the Lutherans, the mass of the Roman Catholics, or the programs. of the non-sectarian tabernacles. In fact, the wording of the Becker Amendment is such that it would exclude all this. What we are asking for and all that is involved is the right to recognize Almighty God as God, to pray to God, and to read from the Bible as the Book that has, blessed our nation. As none other.
We Do Not Want to Shut Out God From America Officially
The issue at stake is simply God, Almighty God. It is not a question of religious instruction, Bible teaching, or denominational indoctrination. Americans have believed in God, with few exceptions, and in the conduct of the affairs of their nation they have a right to say so. The majority in this nation does have the right to declare their trust in God, and a minority of atheists and others should not have the right to forbid them.
Already God is recognized by name or clear identification in the constitution of every state in the union, save one.
Moreover, God is the Author of liberty. Our victories in battle have been the work of divine providence and so recognized by our Presidents, generals, and national leaders.
Particularly in moments of national crisis do we feel the impact of our dependence as a nation upon Him. When the President calls for a day of national mourning or prayer, the pupils in the public schools should be free to pray. When the press reported at the time of the recent tornado in Wichita Falls, Texas, that a child looked up from under the desk, where the teacher had directed the pupils to take cover, and asked, "Teacher, is it all right to pray?" the teacher should have been free to have asked God's protection upon them all. But under the present ruling, for a teacher to lead in prayer in a tax-supported public school would be a violation of the Constitution of the United States!
The "neutrality" thesis which the Supreme Court used to eliminate prayer to God and the reading of the Bible must not now be permitted to be used to eliminate all these other accepted practices in our heritage and recognizing God. Instead, these practices must now be used in effect to nullify the Supreme Court's decision against prayer, and Bible reading in the schools.
Liberty is a gift of God. If liberty is to be maintained we must have the help of God.
The school children need to know that the people of America believe that God has bestowed upon us the blessings of liberty. To eliminate therefore, an opportunity for this recognition of God in the public schools is not only an offense against Deity Himself and His goodness, but a tragic injustice against the children of our nation. Such recognition and practices must be considered "an establishment of religion." The Becker Amendment says this.
Moreover, our Republic is built upon the basis of law and order. God is the One who has made it necessary to have both. At this point, the reading of the Bible without sectarian comment, as has been the practice in many of our schools, is of the utmost importance to the nation's welfare. Our children need to hear from the Bible; "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov. 14:34). The Bible is the place where we read, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 33:12). The law of God and the summary of the same in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17) is the foundation of all morality upon which our society is built- "Thou shalt not kill ... .. Thou shalt not steal," Thou shalt not bear false witness." The whole social structure, and the importance and responsibility of the individual in his accountability to God and not to the State is the basis of our concept of individualism protected in the first ten amendments to the Constitution. This nation cannot survive in liberty without God. We do have a heritage that recognizes
God, and this must not be delegated to a question of literary study for our youth in the schools.
Communists Repudiate God: America Should Not
The Communist world is completely dedicated to a repudiation of God and to a crass materialism. I believe that we as a nation have been honored by God because of our recognition of Him and our national motto, "In God We Trust."
The Supreme Court's thesis of "neutrality" has, in fact, removed God. It is one thing to treat all religions equal before the law, but it is an entirely different understanding of neutrality when the doctrine is used to separate the nation itself from God and this is the road on which the Supreme Court's decision, I believe, has set the nation's course.
It is impossible to be neutral concerning God. The very attempt to be neutral deserts Him and deposes Him. All the fine, pleasant words about religion and our religious heritage that the Supreme Court and certain of its members in independent speeches have used cannot nullify that fact that it is the solemn recognition of Almighty God that has now been removed from the schools. This is the road to a materialistic and godless America. It is the realization of the impact of these developments that has touched the depths of the souls of so many of our freedom-loving people. Thus the deepest emotions have been stirred by the Court's action.
The Becker Amendment provides Constitutional protection for voluntary participation. It recognizes the inviolate nature of the individual conscience. With the world facing the Community conspiracy, this is no time for the United States in any way to tamper with our dedication to God as a nation. The elimination of the recognition of God and the reading of the holy Scriptures in the public schools will weaken the moral fiber of this Republic in its struggle with the Communists.
Why Repudiate the Position of Our Declaration of Independence, of All Our President and Our National Tradition?
Mr. Justice Potter Stewart in his dissenting opinion, June 25, 1962, said: "Each of our Presidents, from George Washington to John R. Kennedy, has upon assuming his Office asked the protection and help of God." If the Chief Executive of this Republic at the time of his formal inauguration as President can appeal to God for help, cannot the school boy and girl be allowed a few moments in which prayer can be made in this behalf as they prepare themselves to be citizens in the same Republic?
President George Washington, on April 30, 1789, said: "It would be peculiarly improper to omit this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to His charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own nor those of my fellow citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.:
President Thomas Jefferson on March 4, 1805, said: "I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power, and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations."
On March 4, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said: "In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come."
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 21, 1957, said: "Before all else, we seek, upon our common labor as a nation, the blessings of Almighty God. And the hopes in our hearts fashion the deepest prayers of our whole people."
President John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961, said: "The world is very different now. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe-the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God."
President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 22, 1963, said: "I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help -and God's."
It is our opinion that the most important decision ever handed down by the Supreme Court is this one which embraced a concept of "neutrality" and made it applicable to the right to pray to God in the public schools of this Republic. It is this we desire to rectify. We do want Presidents who, when they are inaugurated, will do as all our Presidents have done- call upon Almighty God. And a part of the training of our Presidents is in the public schools of this nation. A nation devoted to God is not a Constitutional establishment of religion.
In view of the position that I maintain, therefore, and that I have briefly sought to outline, may 1 suggest that the following phrase be added to the first section of the proposed Becker Amendment, so that that section will read as follows; "Nothing in this Constitution shall be deemed to prohibit the offering, reading from, or listening to prayers or Biblical Scriptures, provided such prayers are not prepared or prescribed by a state, or any state agency, and, if participation therein is on a voluntary basis, in any governmental or public school, institution, or place." In making this suggestion I am seeking to honor the position of the Court in the New York Regents' case, and this would properly be covered in the phrase of the Tenth Amendment, "nor prohibited by it to the states." The Becker Amendment would therefore include this prohibition against the establishment of official state prayers such as New York State sought to impose.
I hope that the Committee will consider the position that I represent as a possible solution to the problem that confronts us all.
I thank you very much.
(Subtitles added.) From the Christian Beacon