The climate at Senate subcommittee hearings this month on the proposed Dirksen Amendment to allow “voluntary prayer” in public schools was as cool as the overly air-conditioned Caucus Room. One observer said that, in contrast to the 1964 debate on the similar Becker Amendment, participants seemed to be “just going through the motions.”
Subcommittee Chairman Birch Bayh, Democratic Senator from Indiana, and two colleagues listened as a series of church spokesmen opposed the proposal with logical, eloquent, and usually long-winded testimony. These witnesses contended that the business of teaching children spiritual truths belongs to the homes and churches, not the public schools.
Organizations opposing the amendment included the National Council of Churches, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., Unitarian Universalist Association, and the National Lutheran Council.
Favoring the amendment were the National Association of Evangelicals, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, Protestant Ministers for School Prayers and Bible Readings, and Liberty Lobby.
Dr. David R. Hunter, deputy general secretary of the NCC, said representative assemblies of most major Protestant groups have accepted the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment and seek no revision.
Dr. C. Emanuel Carlson, executive director of the Baptist Committee, agreed that “the First Amendment is a uniquely effective formulation of the rights necessary for protection of religious liberty and needs no amendment.”
Dr. C. Stanley Lowell, associate director of Americans United, implied that the Supreme Court decisions have not been properly interpreted by many. “No decision … has destroyed or outlawed anyone’s freedom to pray.…”
S. B. Sissel of the United Presbyterians said that if the amendment were to become part of the Constitution, a majority of children or the aggressive religious leadership in a community would determine what kind of prayers all children would “voluntarily” participate in. “Children are not these days noted for their spirit of non-conformity and their capacity to violate the customs and fads of their peers,” Sissel said.
Dr. William R. Moors of the UUA agreed: “Voluntary prayer cannot really be voluntary, since it must be directed by someone.”
Several witnesses said public school prayers are mediocre and meaningless. “Those who direct … would have the impossible task of trying to offend no one and satisfy all. This would dilute every participant’s faith,” Moors said.
The most convincing testimony in favor of Dirksen’s proposal was given by Dr. Leonidas C. Contos of the Greek Orthodox Church: “To declare all religious education, any reference to religious principles, as outside the broad … responsibility of education is to declare … a false boundary, a mythical wall of separation, that divides, and deprives, the growing child,” Contos said.
Senate Ok’S Judicial Review
The Senate passed a new bill for judicial review July 29 and referred it to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill calls for constitutional tests of laws that provided federal aid to religious organizations. Many Protestants contend several recent laws clash with the First Amendment.
The new bill, sponsored by Senators Wayne Morse, Joseph S. Clark, and Ralph Yarborough, incorporated ideas of organizations criticizing a previous judicial-review bill during March hearings.
Contos said that, although his church champions the principle of church-state separation, it could see no violation of this principle in the Dirksen Amendment.
Dirksen, Senate Republican leader and author of the proposed amendment, attended some of the hearings. He rarely questioned witnesses opposing his amendment and spent much of his time bounding across the room on crutches to answer telephone calls.
There were signs that grass-roots opinion disagrees with church spokesmen. Dirksen said of 100,000 letters he had received, only a half-dozen opposed the amendment. Clifford Morehouse, ranking layman in the Episcopal Church, was among those charging testimony by Hunter and others does not represent the ideas of most churchgoers.
The three senators on the committee who questioned witnesses at great length were Bayh, Joseph B. Tydings, Jr., of Maryland, and Roman Hruska, of Nebraska.
Tydings, an Episcopalian, made his position clear in almost unmerciful cross-examination of witnesses favoring the amendment, while Hruska spared few words in publicly supporting Dirksen. Bayh, a Methodist, tried unsuccessfully to be neutral, often letting his line of questioning give him away as opposing the amendment. On one of these occasions, Unitarian Hruska asked that Bayh give “prayerful consideration” to becoming a Dirksen supporter.
Dr. Gary Cohen, representing Protestant Ministers for School Prayers and Bible Reading, had the roughest time of all the witnesses as he appealed to the committee for removal of the “national prohibition on school prayers.”
Tydings grilled Cohen for over two hours after he presented a list of 4,000 signatures of Protestant ministers supporting the amendment and was unable to produce background information or addresses for the ministers. Tydings questioned the validity of the list after checking the Baltimore yellow pages under “ministers” and not finding names on Cohen’s Baltimore list.
Cohen and Carl Thomas McIntire, son of Dr. Carl McIntire, head of the fundamentalist American Council of Christian Churches said the 4,000 ministers had been contacted by mail and asked to sign and return a post card indicating their approval.
After the first day of testimony all the arguments for and against had been presented, but the questioning continued. Though the proposal has support of forty-eight of the one hundred Senators, there was some question whether it would ever get out of the subcommittee and onto the Senate and House floors for the necessary two-thirds vote. Most witnesses seemed to think the subcommittee was where the Dirksen Amendment belonged.
Divorce. After a two-year study ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, top churchmen and lawyers recommend that England allow one basis—“breakdown of marriage”—for divorce. Legal grounds at present are adultery, cruelty, and desertion. The twelve-member committee was headed by Bishop Robert Mortimer of Exeter.
The report drew a strict church-state line: “How the doctrine of Christ concerning marriage should be interpreted and applied within the Christian Church is one question; what the Church ought to say and do about secular laws … is another question altogether.”
In America, a particular case of divorce drew condemnation from seven speakers on the floor of Congress and many churchmen. The target was Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, 67, who married a 23-year-old coed a month after he was divorced by his third wife, who is 26.
Birth control. Responding to an Italian newspaper report, the Vatican denied that Pope Paul is on the verge of making his long-anticipated statement on birth control, which will affect population planning by many governments. Religious News Service reported that the Pope has given no clues on his ideas, even to insiders; that the special commission of experts that adjourned in June gave the Pope both majority and minority reports; and that the Pope is expected to announce his decision in September.
A member of the Pope’s study commission, psychiatrist John R. Cavanagh of Washington, D. C., writes in this month’s Marriage magazine that the rhythm method produces “serious psychological harm” for couples.
In London, the Archbishop of Canterbury said his “guess” is that Rome will modify its ban on all birth-conrtol methods except rhythm.
In Pennsylvania, Roman Catholics sought to limit state birth control aid to women living with their husbands. A new compromise policy excludes unwed mothers but includes married women not living with their husbands.
The government of India, meanwhile, plans to provide intra-uterine “loops” for distribution in the 81 of the nation’s 200 Protestant hospitals now cooperating in the contraception program of the Christian Medical Association.
Hospital aid. Trustees of Arkansas Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock want the state Baptist convention either to relinquish control or let the institution take federal aid.
The trustees say income from patients is down $150,000 a year because the Medicare formula fails to make enough provision for charity cases and bad debts, equipment, remodeling, and new construction.
The state convention will decide in November on various alternatives, including permission for federal loans and grants, or establishment of a new entity to control the hospital.
Profanity. Nashville became the focus for churchmen upset with new bounds of profanity established in the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, based on the Edward Albee play. Police Sergeant Fred Cobb, a Baptist Sunday school teacher, tried to close down the Nashville showing under an anti-profanity statute, but city Judge Andrew Doyle dismissed the charges. Theater manager Lawrence Kerrigan then sued Cobb for $50,000 in damages.
An “interdenominational rally” headed mostly by Baptists drew 300 persons to picket the performance. Local pastor Dr. H. Franklin Paschall, new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stated that “profanity is blasphemous and degrading—nothing good can come from it.”
But C. B. Anderson, a Methodist film official in Nashville, was quoted as saying the film is “most moral,” and “Virginia Woolf” also drew praise from reviewers in the Christian Century and Commonweal.
Christmas stamp. The American Jewish Congress and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the Post Office Department’s plan to issue a 1966 Christmas stamp reproducing a Hans Memling painting of the Madonna and Child. Responding to the Jewish protest, Special Assistant Ira Kapenstein said that nobody is forced to use the stamp and that the design is a “work of art.” The ACLU retorted that a choice of religious art amounts to “government sponsorship of or participation in” a religious event.
College subsidy. Michigan Governor George Romney signed into law a plan for state subsidies to students at private and church-related colleges. Awards will be based on family income and will range from $50 to $250 a semester. Theology and religion students are ineligible. Church opposition to the measure was formidable, including the state and Detroit church councils and Baptist, Episcopal, and Methodist bodies. Opponents might force a court test on constitutional grounds.
Tax deductions. The U. S. Treasury Department has ordered a re-study of proposed curbs of income tax deductions for deferred donations to church and other charities. Churchmen were prominent in the heavy protest to the plan, which might now be dropped altogether.
At present, a donor may deduct up to 30 per cent of his adjusted gross income if it is contributed to charities. If the amount is over 30 per cent, he can write off the excess over five years, which provides a considerable incentive for wealthy taxpayers to make donations.
Housing law. Dr. Benjamin Payton of the National Council of Churches was among religious spokesmen urging Congress to include real estate agencies in “compulsion” sections of the proposed national fair housing law. Payton said some churchmen may oppose the bill without such a provision. Senate Subcommittee Chairman Sam Ervin of North Carolina quoted 1 Samuel 16:7 in opposing the measure, contending it requires “some divine power” to tell whether a person refuses to sell a house for bias or another reason.
Apartheid. The 31 Roman Catholic bishops of southern Africa, a five-nation jurisdiction including the Union of South Africa, denounced that nation’s apartheid or racial segregation policies. Their pastoral letter, which quoted at length from documents of the Vatican Council, was the group’s first pronouncement on race since 1962.
Russian Orthodox Outpost
The “sacred peninsula” of Athos in Greece, site of twenty Orthodox monasteries, is as involved in East-West currents today as it has been during eleven centuries of history.
Athos made news recently when the Greek government decided to admit five new monks from the Soviet Union to the Russian Orthodox monastery of Saint Panteleimon. The decision broke an absolute ban enforced for half a century by Greece, which feared monks would import Communism. Now the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate hopes eight additional monks will be admitted.
Athos may remain in the limelight for another reason. Pressure reportedly is increasing on the Ecumenical Patriarchate to leave its historic base in Istanbul and establish new headquarters on Athos.
The Greek ban on Russian monks, imposed after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, has turned the Saint Panteleimon monastery from a thriving community of 2,000 to a virtual retirement village for a remnant of forty-five men, all over seventy. But the monastery has prospered financially as the population has declined, because it has been the beneficiary of wills all over Greece.
The Peninsula of Athos is an unusual political entity. It is a self-administered part of the Greek state, and entering monks must automatically assume Greek citizenship. Greece appoints a governor as political authority, but the actual administration is exercised by a group of twenty monks, representing the various monasteries. They are all under spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The monasteries and autonomy of Athos date to the year 875 and the reign of Byzantine Emperor Basil. There was a period of Roman Catholic rule during the Crusades. The peninsula then fell under Turkish control for five centuries, but, surprisingly, the traditions of the monks were undisturbed. Athos became a part of Greece in 1912.
Limits on entry of Russian monks are not just a Greek policy. Similar situations exist even in Communist lands. The Serbian monastery at Hiliandari and the Zographou monastery in Bulgaria have just a few monks left from the old days, with little prospect of new ones coming soon.
And at Athos, restrictions exist on more than Russians. Since the year 1060, all women have been forbidden to approach the Athos monasteries.
Biltmore: Under New Management
A brave experiment in Christian witnessing along Miami Beach’s flamboyant hotel strip begins its most severe test this month. The ten-story Biltmore Terrace Hotel, whose “family” atmosphere is set by a chapel where daily devotional services are held, will be leased to and run by the Holiday Inn chain.
Holiday conducted an aggressive campaign to get the Biltmore as its first high-rise in the area following the death of its manager, Dr. Ralph Mitchell, in March. Vernon Kane, business consultant for the hotel’s Chicago owners, said “it was impossible to replace the man who had given the hotel its identity.” Mitchell was a Scottish Baptist preacher and former associate evangelist with Billy Graham.
Holiday was aided by financial conditions. The swank, 300-room ocean-front hotel was built for $3.2 million in 1952, then went through a series of owners and bankruptcies. Kane said that during the past four years under the present owners the Biltmore had overcome its bad reputation and had begun to break even when Mitchell died.
The new contract guarantees that no alcoholic beverages will be served for at least one year, but Kane reports Wallace Johnson and other Holiday Inn executives in Memphis hope to continue the policy throughout the twenty-five-year lease. He said Holiday may also continue the type of program Mitchell developed, “on a modified basis.” Besides chapel, that included cultural offerings in the auditorium (once a night club) ranging from recitals by Metropolitan Opera star Jerome Hines to concerts by local church choirs.
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