Twenty-eight Against the "Establishment"

Wallace H. Little
Marshall, Texas


No, I'm not one of today's rebels ranting against the "Establishment" (euphemism for society). Nor am I presently concerned about these. I am writing about the November 8, 1971 vote in the United States House Of Representatives which brought about the (temporary) defeat of the so-called "prayer amendment."

The "establishment clause" of the First Amendment to our marvelous Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

House Joint Resolution 191 (the "Prayer amendment") reads, "Nothing contained in this Constitution shall abridge the right of persons lawfully assembled in any public building which is supported in whole or in part through the expenditure of public funds, to participate in nondenominational prayer."

Many have become needlessly confused over the Supreme Court decisions of 1962 and 1963 concerning prayers in public schools, believing prayers have been forbidden. This did not happen; rather, they did prohibit required prayer, and any prayer directed by Government officials. Since that time, various groups have foolishly pressed for "the right of prayer in public schools" as if this right no longer existed. It does! Among the most vocal and effective has been the "Citizens for Public Prayer," a Roman Catholic front group led for the past eight years by Roman Catholic priest, Robert H. Howes. The "prayer amendment" was sponsored by Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie of Ohio. After being successfully bottled up in committee for a long time, it was finally forced out for floor action by a Petition of Discharge (which requires 218 signatures of House members). Due to a fortunate combination of holidays and House of Representative rules on when bills petitioned out of committee may be considered, it did not come up for a vote until Monday, November 8, 1971. This was fortunate because it gave to those who love freedom of worship and were willing to do something to save it time in which to marshall the opposition. Since the bill was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution, its passage required a two-third's rather than a simple majority. It was stopped by twenty-eight votes. Close! Close!

Examination of two portions of this innocent-sounding resolution will show the very great danger to the freedom we love. Notice, "... public building which is supported in whole or in part through the expenditure of public funds ....and ". . . non-denominational prayer." Buildings receiving direct or indirect subsidy from any governmental unit (including church buildings provided police or fire protection without payment of taxes or an equivalent for such protection) would fall under the control of public officials to the extent of requiring "non-denominational prayers" be allowed in them. It would take the courts some years to produce a clear-cut decision as to what this meant, but the ultimate should be that prayer determined to be "nondenominational" by the controlling public official in a particular place would be the authorized and required one. Elders, preachers, saints, are you ready to have some public official tell you what prayer you can, and even more important, cannot have within the four walls of your building? This is establishment of religion! And I'll give you one guess as to which religion swings enough political "clout" to have the deciding voice on what is, and what is not "nondenominational prayer."

Brethren, I have correspondence from national legislators openly proclaiming their support of this, or a subsequent effort to authorize "non-denominational prayer" in "public buildings." It has been said all that is required for evil men to triumph is for good men to do nothing. This is especially true as far as this "prayer amendment" is concerned. I am not saying our representatives and senators are evil, but willingly or otherwise, many are submitting to political pressure from men who are.

I am not urging churches to involve themselves in politics, but individual Christians in some circumstances must. As long as we are in the world, though not of the world, we need to do what we can to keep this old ball livable. Peter twice (Acts 4 and 5) indicated the only limitation to a Christian's obedience to government was when such placed one in opposition to God. Paul, in Romans 13, said government was for our protection. In Matthew 22 Christ told us to render to Caesar (civil government) that which is Caesar's. This specifically applied to paying taxes but in principle teaches us we have -an obligation to the government under which we live, to help it maintain its God-ordained course and purpose.

Do not think because this attempt was beaten back Roman Catholicism will give up. This group is extremely persistent, sometimes devoting centuries to achieve its ends. It will not stop trying to take away our precious freedom of worship, our legal right to serve God after the New Testament order until it is made so clear that Catholicism cannot fail to understand we will not put up with it. I suggest a strong letter to your congressman and senators would go a long way toward helping them resist the pressure of the emissaries of Rome. I have no objection to Roman Catholicism requiring its own prayers in its own facilities of its own people. I have severe Scriptural objections to it imposing such on others, especially on me and mine.

I am appalled little or nothing has been said or written among brethren on ' this obvious danger to our privilege of worshipping God unmolested in spirit and truth. If we are not careful, we may someday find this taken from us or our children, and going the route of Northern Ireland to Spain, wondering all the time, "What happened?" If we value what we have, we need to wake up, and soon.

Or perhaps, judging from the unconcern of so many indicated by lack of devotion (failing to assemble, etc), the loss of such freedom might be exactly what we need to shake us out of our apathy. Historically, the church has always prospered spiritually during persecution, and this might be the very thing for us now. How about it, is this the road for us? If not, if you are already spiritual, better get with the letter-writing.

John 4:24 will never be as precious to us as when we are forbidden by law from doing it.

February 24, 1972