Proposed Prayer Amendment and Our Cherished Religious Liberty
A Statement of The American Lutheran Church, 1971
Adopted October 22, 1971, by the Church Council, the legislative agency between general conventions, of The American Lutheran Church, by a vote of 40 in favor, none against, and no abstentions, with four members absent. (C70.10.173).
The guarantees of religious liberty written into the Constitution of the United States have served this nation well. Both church and state are the stronger because government cannot pass laws "respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
As American Lutherans we cherish the freedom and the responsibility the First Amendment assures us. We cherish our freedom to pray, to assemble, to worship, to study, to teach, and to serve our neighbors as the fullness of our faith directs. We respect the similar freedoms and responsibilities of our neighbors of other religious faiths. We do not seek to impose our understandings upon them; we expect the same consideration from them.
By its very nature, religious expression is both personal and corporate. It cannot be forced or coerced. It must be true to its distinctive self and to its own corporate commitment. It resists becoming the captive of any race, class, ideology, or government, lest it lose its loyalty to its Lord.
This protection we enjoy in America. We are free to pray in our own words to our own God. We are free to read the Bible in the version we prefer. We are protected against having to speak governmentally composed prayers. We are protected against having to join in devotional exercises decreed by governmental authorities. We are free to pray in public and to read the Bible in public places. We cannot, however, force others to join us in such expressions of our religious faith. These freedoms and these protections our Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in its school prayer and Bible reading decisions, presently assures us.
We see no need, therefore, for any amendment to the Constitution to permit participation in "nondenominational prayer" "in any public building." Such an amendment would endanger our religious liberty; it would tend to establish a governmental nondenominational religion; it would pave the way for courts to intervene in defining what is acceptable as an expression of religion; and it would limit rights already granted and clearly established in American life.
The Church Council in 1971 reaffirms the paragraph commended by the 1964 General Convention and adopted by the 1966 General Convention "as an expression of the policy and conviction of The American Lutheran Church":
Reading of Scripture and addressing deity in prayer are forms of religious expression which devout persons cherish. To compel these religious exercises as essential parts of the public school program, however, is to infringe on the distinctive beliefs of religious persons as well as on the rights of the irreligious. We believe that freedom of religion is best preserved when Scripture reading and prayer are centered in home and church, their effects in the changed lives of devout persons radiating into the schools and into every area of community life. It is as wrong for the public schools to become agents for atheism, godless secularism, scoffing irreligion, or a vague "religion in general" as it is for them to make religious rites and ceremonies an integral part of their programs.
As a nation we should be careful not to endanger our cherished religious liberty through the well-intended but potentially harmful "prayer amendment" (House Joint Resolution 191).