February 6, 1995
The National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC) has long held the view that it is entirely appropriate — indeed desirable — for religion to inform the world of public affairs even as it informs and shapes the life of the individual. At the same time, the firmly-held view of the Jewish community is that religious liberty is secured and enhanced when fundamental religious relationships are kept free of government interference; and when, conversely, religion is not involved with government. The “religion clauses” of the First Amendment have guaranteed religious liberty, and have preserved the right of the Jewish community, as a minority community, to participate in American life. This principle has no greater salience than in the public school.
The NJCRAC views voluntary prayer on the part of students as protected personal behavior, and entirely legitimate. We oppose the call for legislation on “voluntary” prayer; truly voluntary prayer needs no law.
The NJCRAC reiterates its longstanding position in opposition to all forms of government-sponsored school prayer in the public schools. The position of the NJCRAC includes silent prayer and so-called silent meditation, which we view as a subterfuge for the introduction of school prayer — and thereby the inappropriate introduction of religion -into the public schools. The institutionalizing of prayer, in any form, spoken or silent, fosters what in essence is a religious exercise that in a public-school setting can have a coercive effect on a student. At bottom, government-organized prayer, in the view of the NJCRAC, debases distinctive religious expression, vital to maintaining particularistic religious beliefs.
The NJCRAC therefore calls upon the Congress to reject efforts aimed at amending the Constitution to permit government-sponsored or -organized prayer in the schools and to oppose legislation to that end; and calls upon state legislatures to reject school-prayer initiatives that may arise.