Religious Right Kicks off Campaign for Istook Religion Amendment

Article excerpt

Backed by a full gospel choir and a line-up of alleged "victims" of religious discrimination, Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed formally inaugurated the group's drive to add a "Religious Freedom Amendment" to the Constitution at a Capitol Hill rally May 22.

Reed joined the Rev. Earl Jackson, the Christian Coalition's director of urban development, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building before a crowd of about 400 supporters for a "Religious Freedom Ride Celebration."

Among the speakers was U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), the chief sponsor of the "Religious Freedom Amendment" in Congress. Istook told the gathering that religious freedom has been "hijacked" by secularists opposed to religion.

"The Constitution was meant to be a shield for our freedom, but it has been made into a sword to censor, attack and suppress religion," he charged.

Other speakers included Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council.

"It is alarming to watch judges add brick upon brick to the so-called `wall of separation' between church and state," said Bauer, who serves as radio counselor James Dobson's political operative in Washington. "The Supreme Court and our federal courts have gutted the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution and enshrined the Establishment Clause as the cornerstone of the First Amendment, relegating our most important freedoms to a distant second place."

The Christian Coalition's Jackson introduced several current or former public school students whose religious freedom rights were allegedly violated. Among them was Brittney Settle-Gossett, who in 1991 sued a school in Dickson County, Tenn., after she received an F for a report about Jesus.

However, the federal courts examined Gossett's claims and found them lacking in merit. The student's paper received a failing grade, not because of its subject, but because Gossett didn't follow the teacher's instructions for the project.

Prior to the event, Americans United distributed a press statement giving the facts about Gossett's story and others that were showcased at the Coalition rally. …