GOP Leaders Join Prayers for Religion Amendment

Article excerpt

Republican House leaders yesterday told a church full of shouting, stomping, cheering constituents they have been told too long to "sit down and shut up."

"One thing we should have is the ability . . . to pray together," said Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, who introduced a Religious Freedom Amendment for the third time.

When "someone twists the Constitution," a constitutional amendment is the best way to fix it, he said.

The amendment would permit school prayer and other religious expression on public property, including schools. Supporters say it will undo 30 years of judicial misinterpretation of the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom.

"So if you pray," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay said as the crowd at Bible Way Temple in Northwest Washington jumped to its feet, "someday, we will have prayer in our classrooms."

In another church in downtown Washington, religious leaders laid out their arguments for why such an amendment was "bewilderingly foolish" and destructive.

"Make no mistake about the radical nature of this amendment," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The proposed amendment "will get government back in the prayer business," "force taxpayers to subsidize private religious schools" and allow evangelists to try to "convert your children in their public schools," Mr. Lynn said.

The amendment would allow major religions to trample on minor ones, said Rep. Chet Edwards, Texas Democrat and opponent of the amendment. …