House Panel Mulls Prayer Amendment: Hyde: Bad Court Rulings Forcing Issue

Article excerpt

Proponents of a constitutional amendment to protect religious freedom argued yesterday that it is needed to help teachers and principals understand that prayer is allowed in public schools.

Opponents, meanwhile, said the proposed amendment would dilute the Constitution because it would not extend any rights further than those courts have acknowledged.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said a constitutional amendment is needed to clarify the role of religion in public life.

"Our problem is not with the Constitution itself, but with courts that interpret the First Amendment in a way that undermines - rather than protects - religious freedom," Mr. Hyde said.

"Public school teachers who accept reports on witches, forbid students from writing reports on Jesus. . . . Religious charitable institutions are forbidden from acting like religious charitable institutions when public welfare funds flow through their books," he said.

The House plans to vote this year on the proposed amendment, which was introduced last week by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. House Republicans concede it probably will fail to pass.

"Even if it is unsuccessful, it provides the groundwork for later," said Rep. Ernest Istook Jr., Oklahoma Republican, who has introduced a stronger proposal that would explicitly allow for student prayer in public schools. …