Becker Amendment (1964)

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The public indignation aroused by the Supreme Court's decisions on school prayer and Bible reading (engel v. vitale, 1962; abington township v. schempp, 1963) provoked the introduction in Congress of over 160 proposals to amend the Constitution. When Chairman Emmanuel Celler, who opposed the amendments, bottled them up in his House Judiciary Committee, the proponents united behind a compromise measure drafted by Representative Frank J. Becker of New York.

The Becker Amendment was worded as a guide to interpretation of existing constitutional provisions rather than as new law. It had three parts. The first two provided that nothing in the Constitution should be deemed to prohibit voluntary prayer or scripture reading in schools or public institutions or the invocation of divine assistance in government documents or ceremonies or on coins or currency. The third part declared: "Nothing in this article shall constitute an establishment of religion."

Under pressure of parliamentary maneuvering, Celler conducted hearings in 1964—at which many denominational leaders and constitutional scholars expressed opposition to the Becker Amendment—but his committee never reported any proposal to the House. Amendments similar to Becker's have been introduced in subsequent Congresses, but none has come close to the majority votes needed for submission to the states.

Dennis J. Mahoney

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Becker Amendment (1964)

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