Why the Istook Religion Amendment Should Be Rejected

Article excerpt

Church-state separationists say U.S. Rep.

Ernest J. Istook's so-called "Religious

Freedom Amendment" is a blueprint for

government-sanctioned worship, taxation

for religion and majoritarian oppression.

Here are some points to keep in mind when

considering the measure:

* The Istook proposal is not a

"Religious Freedom Amendment." Rather,

it is a recipe for religious tyranny.

Separation of church and state has served

this country well for more than 200 years,

bringing America interfaith harmony,

incredible religious vitality and a high rate

of attendance at houses of worship. The

Istook amendment removes that vital

principle from our Constitution.

* No amendment is need to guarantee

students' right to pray in public schools; they

already have the right to engage in purely

voluntary, non-disruptive prayer any time

during the school day. The Istook

amendment is designed to permit coercive

programs of group prayer in public schools.

Students would be forced to single

themselves out by getting up and leaving

the room if they did not want to participate.

* Provisions in the amendment barring

government officials from compelling

participation in prayer are insufficient. In

public schools, student "volunteers" could

impose religious worship on their peers by

reciting prayers of their own composition

or ones already written.

* The provision allowing "the people"

to "recognize their religious beliefs, heritage

or traditions on public property" is

dangerously vague. In Utah, the people

could vote to declare the state officially

Mormon; in Alabama, a county could

become officially Baptist. Religious groups

would be forced to compete with one an

other for government recognition and

favors.

* Private groups, including religious

organizations, already have the right to

acknowledge religion on government

property under certain conditions. For

example, a church may display a Nativity

scene in front of city hall if that space has

been used for other free-speech activities in

the past. This amendment is designed to

allow government officials to endorse

religion, a practice that could make millions

of Americans feel like outsiders in their

own communities.

* The amendment would force

taxpayers to put their hard-earned money

in the collection plates of houses of

worship, even though they might disagree

with the faith being taught. For example,

the provision stating that government shall

not "discriminate against religion or deny a

benefit due to religion" forces government

to give tax aid to religious groups for

schools and other ministries. It taxes

people to support religions in which they

may disbelieve and is, at bottom, a religion

tax--a notion this country did away with

more than 200 years ago. …