JULY 5, 1962
HYDE PARK—The nation's Governors, in their annual meeting in Hershey, Pa., had a wordy wrangle regarding a resolution to be submitted to Congress for an amendment to the First Article of the Constitution, which of course deals with freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.
All this, it seems to me, stems from a misunderstanding of what the Supreme Court ruled regarding the New York State Board of Regents-written prayer and the saying of it in the schools of the state under state direction.
The fact is that this is a prayer written and backed by the government of the state and directed to be used in the schools, and which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional. The prayer is innocuous, but this procedure would be an injection of state interference in religious education and religious practice.
Under our Constitution no individual can be forced by government to belong to a special religion or to conform to a special religious procedure. But any school, or any group of people, or any individual may say a prayer if he or they so wish if it is not under the order of the government or connected with government direction in any way. This seems to me very clear in the Supreme Court decision and conforms exactly, I think, with the Constitution.
It is my feeling that many of our newspapers put sensational headlines on stories pertaining to this decision, and people have suddenly—without really reading the court ruling themselves—reacted emotionally.
Someone reported to me that he had heard a man on the radio in tears saying that he never thought he would live to see the day when God would be outlawed from our schools. Another told me that a Southern woman wrote to her daughter in New England, saying that she was horrified to find that the Supreme Court was controlled by the Communists and, of course, the Communists were controlled by the Eastern European Jews. Such nonsense, such ignorance is really vicious.
One hears it said, of course, that at present in the South the accusation of communism is rather loosely bandied about and covers whatever you happen not to like. Not to know, however, that the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe are constantly trying to get away from those Soviet-controlled countries because they do not have security or equality of opportunity makes the accusation of their influence in communism and adherence to it a show of complete ignorance of the situation as it really exists. If any people have a reason for disliking communism, it is the Jews.
When unthinking emotions are aroused we usually find that whatever prejudices are held are channeled by the emotions into expressions that have nothing to do with reality but simply are an outlet for the prejudices.
Years ago, in the South, I can remember my husband telling me when he took to Warm Springs the first nurse who had been trained in physiotherapy and had worked for the State of New York that he hardly dared mention the fact that she happened to be a Roman Catholic. He hoped—before anyone discovered this fact—that her kindliness of spirit, her skill and her helpfulness would have won a place among the neighbors where she was going to work.
He was right, but he could not help being amused when an old man came to see him and said: "Miss———is such a good woman. But I thought when I heard she was a Roman Catholic she ought to have horns and a tail!"
This attitude has worn off somewhat, but in certain areas, such as where the author of the letter I have mentioned comes from, one can still find astounding beliefs about the Roman Catholics and the Jews.
There is a general lack of knowledge, too, about what communism is and how much influence it may have in our country. And the emotional reaction to a Supreme Court decision, such as we are witnessing, seems to me to be the product of an unwillingness to read with care what is actually said and an unwillingness to look at the Constitution and reread the First Amendment.
I thought the President's comment was one of the very best. The Constitution does not specify that we are not to be a religious people; it gives us the right to be religious in our own way, and it places upon us the responsibility for the observance of our religion. When the President said that he hoped this decision would make us think more of religion and our observance individually and at home, he emphasized a fact which I think it would be well for all of us to think about.
Real religion is displayed in the way we live in our day-by-day activities at home, in our own communities, and with our own families and neighbors. The Supreme Court emphasized that we must not curtail our freedom as safeguarded under the First Article of the Constitution.