Commentary Magazine


The School Prayer Decision

To the Editor:

Cheers for Leonard W. Levy’s straightening the record on the thoughts of the founding fathers with regard to church and state [“School Prayers and The Founding Fathers,” September 1962] . . .

If anyone . . . still wishes to question the meaning or motives of Jefferson and Madison, we may still rest on the utterly sensible . . . words of George Washington who was generous and sympathetic to all religions. . . . But when a Presbyterian group complained to him of the absence of God and Jesus Christ from the Constitution, he replied that “the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. . . . To the guidance of the Ministers of the Gospel, this important object is, perhaps, more properly committed.”

One notes that Catholic and Jewish citizens of the time had particular cause to rejoice at this policy of friendly separation; and they did. For there were pressures to write religious tests for political participation into our fundamental law which were exerted by Protestants who were afraid that, at some future date, Roman Catholics, Jews, and infidels might seize the government. . . .

Stanley Ditzion
New York City

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To the Editor:

Even a religious agnostic must find occasion to agree with his religious friends. Thus I cannot, as a student of the Constitution, agree with the interpretation placed on the United States Constitution by the Supreme Court in its rendered judgment that a nondenominational prayer recited in the public schools is in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Such a prayer does not, I believe, result in an establishment of religion. . . . Indeed, there was no predilection shown for one religious sect in the composition of the prayer.

Despite this, however, a more solid case could have been made for eliminating the prayer if the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was the basic rationale. The very antithesis of equal protection is discrimination. Minority right is inviolate. Notwithstanding the fact that there was an absence of compulsion or coercion in the recitation of the prayer . . . the non-observing individual would feel the harmful effects of stigmatization. Such treatment would be inherently unequal. . . .

Elliott A. Cohen
New York City

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