Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen’s legislative prayer crusade suffered a setback at the hands of the U. S. Senate last month. His move to amend the U. S. Constitution to provide especially for public-school prayer fell nine votes short of the two-thirds needed for passage, whereupon the colorful 70-year-old Republican vowed to renew his campaign in the Ninetieth Congress next year.

Also turned back by the Senate was a move by Indiana Democrat Birch Bayh to substitute for the Dirksen amendment a simple resolution expressing the sense of Congress in favor of voluntary public-school prayers. The Bayh resolution, which would have had no legislative effect, got only thirty-three votes. It needed merely a majority for passage. Dirksen forces opposed it.

The votes marked the first official tally of congressional sentiment on the U. S. Supreme Court rulings that barred public-school devotional exercises. Twenty-seven Republicans and twenty-two Democrats voted in favor of the Dirksen amendment. Thirty-four Democrats and three Republicans voted against it. Nearly all the Democrats supporting the measure were from the South. If it had passed the Senate, the amendment would still have needed approval of the House and three-fourths of the state legislatures.

How They Voted

Democrats for: Byrd (Va.), Byrd (W. Va), Church (Idaho), Eastland (Miss.), Ellender (La.), Hill (Ala.), Holland (Fla.), Jordan (N. C.), Lausche (Ohio), Long (La.), McClellan (Ark.), Montoya (N. M.), Pastore (R. I.), Randolph (W. Va.), Robertson (Va.), Russell (S. C.), Russell (Ga.), Smathers (Fla.), Sparkman (Ala.), Stennis (Miss.), Symington (Mo.), and Talmadge (Ga.).

Republicans for: Aiken (Vt.), Bennett (Utah), Boggs (Del.), Carlson (Kans.), Cooper (Ky.), Cotton (N. H.), Curtis (Neb.), Dirksen (Ill.), Dominick (Colo.), Fannin (Ariz.), Fong (Hawaii), Griffin (Mich.), Hickenlooper (Iowa), Hruska (Neb.), Miller (Iowa), Mundt (S. D.), Murphy (Calif.), Pearson (Kans.), Prouty (Vt.), Saltonstall (Mass.), Scott (Pa.), Simpson (Wyo.), Smith (Maine), Thurmond (S. C.), Tower (Texas), Williams (Del.), and Young (N. D.).

All others voting were opposed. Senators who did not vote but announced as paired for the amendment were McIntyre (N. H.) and Moss (Utah). Not voting paired against the amendment was Brewster (Md.) Not voting but on record as opposed to the bill were Bass (Tenn.), Gore (Tenn.), and Metcalf (Mont.). Not voting but endorsing the measure was Dodd (Conn.).

Polls have shown that Americans favor public-school devotional exercises by a wide majority. Most religious lobbyists in Washington, however, fought the Dirksen amendment on grounds that it would tamper with the concept of religious liberty guaranteed now by the Constitution.

Article continues below

Dirksen maintains that his intent is not to override the Supreme Court decisions but to clarify them. The text of his proposed amendment is as follows:

“Nothing contained in this Constitution shall prohibit the authority administering any school, school system, educational institution or other public building supported in whole or in part through the expenditure of public funds from providing for or permitting the voluntary participation by students or others in prayer. Nothing contained in this article shall authorize any such authority to prescribe the form or content of any prayer.”

The proposal differs from the Becker amendment proposed in 1964 primarily in that the latter also sought to protect Bible reading in public classrooms. The 1964 move never came to a vote, and its sponsor, Republican Representative Frank Becker of New York, did not run for re-election to Congress. Some observers feel that Dirksen took up the battle motivated by a personal conviction that prayer saved him from blindness during a serious eye illness nearly twenty years ago.

During debate on his proposal, Dirksen took a poke at the National Council of Churches and promptly drew a telegram of protest from council leaders. Dirksen called NCC leaders “social engineers (who) have been giving too much time to things like the recognition of China instead of to a little soul saving.” He also quoted documents critical of the council. The protest telegram noted this and called it a “regrettable” use by the Senator of his position “to disseminate erroneous and discredited charges.”

Dirksen says his drive for a prayer amendment next year will have the support of a national committee including evangelist Billy Graham and the noted clergyman-editor Daniel Poling.

Expanding A Campaign

Glenn L. Archer, America’s leading campaigner for church-state separation, is worried about repercussions of the Great Society. Archer charges that the first thousand days of the administration of President Johnson have produced a rash of violations of the separation principle. “Never have we had so many legal actions going or the need for so many more,” says the 60-year-old Archer, executive director of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Efforts to secularize the Church are aggravating the problem.

Article continues below

To combat the trend, Archer and POAU hope to expand their campaign from a nine-story “Religious Liberty Center” in Washington. Ground is to be broken during 1967, which will be POAU’s twentieth anniversary year. The milestone is also being marked with the release of Embattled Wall, a sprightly, privately published, 161-page history of the organization written by associate director C. Stanley Lowell.

POAU faces a possible showdown, meanwhile, with other religious interests in Washington. For a number of years the churches’ Washington watchdogs and lobbyists have met informally to share information. At one time POAU was initiating the exchange. A more secretive pool eventually developed that included churchmen from New York also intent on preserving religious liberty, and POAU representatives were eased out. The present so-called consortium settles little and wields little influence, but POAU wants in.

A major hurdle for POAU will be to overcome differences with representatives of the National Council of Churches and the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. The differences are partly due to competition for grass-roots support. Another element is that POAU takes stands on issues solely on the basis of whether the church-state separation principle is violated. The NCC and the Baptists have constituencies that oblige them to weigh countless other considerations.

The Disciples On Viet Nam

President Johnson’s denomination, the Christian Churches (Disciples), decided to hold his hand in sympathy over Viet Nam rather than pat him on the back in support. The President, invited to attend last month’s Dallas convention, didn’t even send greetings to the brethren from his Texas ranch 200 miles away.

Parliamentary wrangling consumed so much time (eighty minutes) that the Disciples never did discuss Viet Nam. They eventually rubber-stamped a steering committee’s substitute motion expressing divided opinions about America’s policy, sympathizing with the President in his “terrifying responsibility,” and urging more relief projects and study.

The committee sidelined a statement giving the President’s policy full support and rejected a past-deadline resolution from the Disciples’ growing neo-pacifist wing that deplored U. S. escalation of the war. The peace group won support for selective conscientious objection without military service. A last-minute resolution endorsed Pope Paul’s call for peace prayers.

Peace, Paul, And Mary

Pope Paul VI’s fourth encyclical, Christi Matri Rosarii, has implications not only for world peace, but also for ecumenics.

Article continues below

The letter, whose title translates “Rosaries to the Mother of Christ,” is about equally divided between an appeal for peace, regarded as the most urgent to come from his pen, and a reaffirmation of the Marian cult, an aspect of Roman Catholic doctrine repugnant to most Protestants.

The pontiff’s concern for peace and his personal devotion to Mary are known, but this is the first time they have been so prominently displayed together.

The encyclical opens with the admonition that “during the month of October prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary are to be said.” The Pope called for a “more persevering prayer” for peace “by the devout recitation of the Rosary.” The Rosary, he wrote, “is well suited to God’s people, acceptable to the Mother of God and powerful in obtaining gifts from heaven.”

In his discussion of the efficacy of prayers to Mary, the Pope recalled that “during the Second Vatican Council we gave our confirmation to a point of traditional doctrine when we gave her the title of Mother of the Church, a title acclaimed by the council Fathers and the Catholic world.” At the time that title was bestowed, Michael Novak, a liberal Catholic writer, called the move “offensive to other Christians and scandalous to Catholics.”

Public emphasis on Mariology has been deplored by many other liberal Roman Catholics and Protestant ecumenists. Even Augustin Cardinal Bea, president of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, has warned against “exaggerated” devotion to Mary. In official Roman Catholic theology, Mary is worthy of hyperdulia, or veneration above all the saints, while God alone is the object of latria, the highest worship and adoration. But the distinction is difficult to see in practice.

In his plea for peace, Pope Paul’s least veiled references were to Viet Nam. “We are threatened by a more extensive and more disastrous calamity that endangers the human family, even as a bloody and difficult war is raging, particularly in areas of East Asia.” He called for “all those responsible” to “strive to bring about those necessary conditions which will lead men to lay down their arms at last, before it becomes too late.… We cry to them in God’s name to stop.”

The cry was not for peace at any cost: “This peace must rest on justice and the liberty of mankind, and take into account the rights of individuals and communities.”

The letter also pointed to other social problems that “are potential material for the greatest possible tragedy.” “For instance there are the increasing race for the expansion of one’s nation, the excessive glorification of one’s race, the obsession for revolution, the segregations enforced on citizens, the iniquitous plotting, the murder of the innocent.”

Article continues below

Following the Pope’s lead, the National Council of Churches and other religious bodies called for a month of peace prayers. For instance, the Rev. Ben Mohr Herbster, president of the United Church of Christ, asked his 6,962 affiliated congregations to do “everything within our power to save the world from holocaust” and to “begin this effort with prayer.”

Near the end of last month, Pope Paul despatched Archbishop Sergio Pignedoli to Viet Nam. According to an early report from unnamed Vatican sources, the diplomat’s visit was to rally support from Roman Catholic clergy and laity for the Pope’s crusade of prayer and peace. At the Saigon airport, Archbishop Pignedoli said that he had come in connection with the Pope’s diplomatic peace campaign but that he was not “an ambassador of that message.”

Yet the veteran Vatican diplomat was met at the airport by South Viet Nam’s Foreign Minister Tran Van Do, and within forty-eight hours the archbishop had asked for a meeting with Premier Nguyen Cao Ky. The possibility of a visit to Hanoi by Archbishop Pignedoli was left open.


Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.