Virginia Senate Kills Church-State Amendment

A proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution to allow government-sanctioned prayer at public schools and other public places was defeated in the state Senate.

In February, the House of Delegates approved the proposal on a 69-27 vote. H.J. Res. 537 stated in part that the Virginia Constitution would “secure further the people’s right to acknowledge God” and allow for prayer and other recognition of “religious beliefs, heritage and traditions on public property, including schools.” The proposed amendment would revise the state constitution’s Article I, Section 16, which was crafted by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Mason.

But on Feb. 21, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 10-5 to reject the measure after lengthy debate. Repub­lican Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr., who pushed the proposed amendment in the House and testified on its behalf before the state senate committee, maintained that federal courts have muzzled Christians’ free speech rights.

“Our country was built upon the Christian principles of the Bible,” Carrico told the committee. “Today our constitution, in my opinion, has to be strengthened to protect those rights of all Christians around the nation.”

Democratic Sen. Janet D. Howell disagreed with Carrico, saying that the Christian majority is quite able to defend itself and that the Founding Fathers sought to protect minority faiths, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Not long after derailing that proposed amendment, however, the Virginia legislature did approve a bill intended to allow government officials to open their public meetings with sectarian prayer. The measure, H 2615, sponsored by Republican Del. Robert D. Orrock Sr., would allow government bodies to open their sessions with “any expressions.”