Meeting in Des Moins, Iowa, the national convention of the United Presbyterian Church votes overwhelmingly — 527 to 313 — to oppose all Bible reading and prayers as religious acts in public schools.
Reading the Bible as part of a class on literature is permitted, but religious invocations and benedictions at baccalaureate services for graduating students are not. This places the United Presbyterian Church squarely on the side of a strict separation of church and state when it comes to public schools.
The United Presbyterian Church also comes out in opposition to Sunday closing laws and special tax privileges accorded to both churches and the clergy.
According to Irwin Cobb, a member of the Committee on Relations Between Church and State:
"We do not wish to be on record as favoring, or seeming to favor, the use of the police power of the state to indoctrinate in any way.
The recommendations regarding public school say:
"Religious observances (should) never be held in public school or introduced into the public school as part of its program. Bible reading in connection with courses in the American heritage, world history, literature, the social sciences, and other academic subjects is completely appropriate to public school instruction. Bible reading and prayers as devotional acts tend toward indoctrination or meaningless ritual, and should be omitted for both reasons."
Dr. Elwyn A. Smith of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary has been working on this for the past three years and says: "In my opinion it is the first time a church has faced up to the fact that the United States is now a pluralistic society. Recognition of the necessity and fact of this come from deep theological conviction. Never before have so many laymen devoted so much time to such a document, which I believe denotes an emerging consciousness of the facts it recognizes.
Other decisions of the report include:
"Religious training and observance are the domain of church and family and observance of religious holidays should be "recaptured" from popular custom.
Public schools should acknowledge and explain religious holidays but never celebrate them officially.
Students should be allowed sufficient time away from school to celebrate their religious observances, yet religious groups should avoid unreasonable demands for time off for students.
Churchmen should not seek or support the use of public property for religious displays, such as creches, and government bodies should not initiate construction of such displays.
Patients in tax-supported agencies should not be denied treatment or advice in accord with sound medical practice because such practices conflict with religious views of some of the agency's personnel.
No physician, nurse or other professional person should be required to give advice or treatment contrary to his religious beliefs in order to keep his job.
Patients normally should not be required to accept advice or treatment conflicting with their faith. But if the parents of a minor refuse on religious grounds to allow treatment that attending doctors feel is neccssary for the child, the treating agency should be able to appeal to the courts for permission to proceed.
Churchmen should not try to intensify local laws prohibiting Sunday activities. or seek to pass them where they do not exist.
Sunday closing laws should be amended to exempt persons who, because or their faith, choose to close their businesses on another day.
Tax-supported grants to non-public elementary and high schools, grants to parents of students in such schools, and tax credits or exemptions for such parents should be opposed.
The policy of supplying welfare services to children in all schools should be supported where the services are public services, and the funds are administered by public bodies responsible to the voters.
The church should "begin the process of extricating itself from the position of being obligated, or seeming to be obligated, to the state by virtue of special tax privileges extended to it."
The internal revenue code provision that exempts churches from corporate income tax on its unrelated business operations should be repealed.
Congregations should be encouraged to voluntarily contribute to the cost of local community services (police, fire, etc.) in lieu of taxes.
The candidacy of an individual should not be resisted on the basis of his religious affiliation.
The use of civil authority to censor on religious grounds privately promulgated material is opposed.
The state should grant a divorce when, and only when there is an irretrievable human failure within the area of marriage. The family dissolution should, therefore, be removed from the area of the quasi-criminal court procedure, and specific grounds for divorce should be that the family has been so broken that it is no longer socially desirable to maintain."