Erwin N. Griswold, Dean of the Law School, criticized the Supreme Court Wednesday night for exceeding the letter and the spirit of the Constitution in its June decision to strike down the New York school prayer.
Speaking at the University of Utah Law School,, Griswold said the Court verdict implied "absolutist notions" not expressed in the Constitution. He specifically attacked Justice Hugo L. Black, who wrote the majority opinion.
The Supreme Court's decision ruled unconstitutional a 22-word non-denominational prayer prepared by New York State officials for use in public schools.
"This is a country of religious toleration, but does our deep-seated toleration require that we give up all religious observance in public activities?" Griswold asked. "Is it not important that minorities, who have benefited so greatly from that toleration, should be tolerant, too?"
Describing the case as a local matter "to be worked out by the people themselves in their own communities," Griswold said it was unfortunate that the matter was ever considered appropriate for judicial decision.
To say that the First Amendment requires the prohibition of religion in public activity is "sheer invention," he declared. "What about Sunday? What about Christmas? Can we allow such constitutional absolutism to deny our whole heritage?"
Griswold pointed out that the New York prayer was not compulsory, and that any child who objected could be excused from participation. He said it was educational for a child to learn in school "not so much that he is different, as that other children are different from him. Learning tolerance for other persons may be an important part of American education, and wholly consistent with the First Amendment