Americans United Vows To Fight Istook Prayer Amendment

 U.S. Rep. Ernest J. Istook's latest attempt to add a school prayer amendment to the Constitution deserves a speedy defeat in Congress, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

On April 9, Istook introduced his "Pledge and Prayer Amendment," a measure intended to allow government-sanctioned prayer and other religious activities at public schools and other public facilities. The amendment, H.J. Res. 46, was co-sponsored by 88 House members.

 Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, "It's time again to remind the U.S. Congress of a fundamental truth: The First Amendment is not broken and doesn't need to be fixed. Istook's amendment claims to protect the people's right to pray, but that right is already protected by the First Amendment."

Lynn charged that Istook is introducing the amendment now to capitalize on Religious Right-led hysteria over the recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because of its religious content.

Istook's measure would permit public schools to sponsor prayer and religious worship and would allow government to display sectarian symbols and religious codes like the Ten Commandments in government buildings. The House rejected an earlier version of the amendment in 1998.

"This amendment will foster a type of religious mob rule in our public schools," said Lynn. "Religious majorities will be able to impose their faith on everyone else. That runs counter to the spirit of true religious liberty."

The amendment reads, "To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people retain the right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including schools. The United States and the States shall not establish any official religion nor require any person to join in prayer or religious activity."