Rep. Istook Reintroduces Constitutional Amendment On School Prayer, Religious School Vouchers

Misnamed 'Religious Freedom Amendment' Undermines Religious Liberties, Says Americans United

Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) has reintroduced a constitutional amendment, misnamed the "Religious Freedom Amendment," 16 months after the House of Representatives rejected his previous attempt to effectively remove church-state separation from the constitution.

"Rep. Istook has again climbed aboard a train called 'political pandering' to take the Constitution to a place it should not go," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "Far from protecting religious freedom, this amendment would radically erase the liberties we currently enjoy. This is a full frontal assault on the First Amendment that will be repelled."

Istook's amendment got its first vote in the House on June 4, 1998. Though the final vote was 224 to 203 in favor of the measure, that was far short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass a constitutional amendment.

"Supporters of this effort are engaged in another misleading campaign to offer solutions to a problem that doesn't exist," Lynn added. "In fact, existing law protects a student's right to pray, say grace before meals, read religious literature during free time and even form after-school Bible clubs. Not only is this proposal dangerous, it's unnecessary.

"For over two hundred years, we have struck a delicate balance with church-state separation," Lynn concluded. "As a result, religion has flourished without aid or interference from government. The fact that Istook and his allies would destroy this balance is shocking and disappointing. Our First Amendment is fine; it doesn't need fixing."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.