Constitutional amendment would undermine First Amendment
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On June 30, 2005, all but unnoticed by the major media, one hundred Republican members of Congress introduced an amendment to the Constitution that would permit prayer and religious symbols in public settings. The measure, House Joint Resolution 57, which would effectively cancel out the First Amendment, reads in full:
To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience:
The principal author is Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, whose earlier effort to amend the Constitution was defeated in 1998 (see below). To see the printed version of H.J.Res. 57 listing the sponsors, please click here.
Rep. Istook's Introductory Statement
In his remarks introducing H.J.Res. 57, Rep. Istook scarcely sugar-coated the measure's clear intent: to impose Christianity at school and in the public square. His conclusion, especially, left little to inference:
The courts are using the First Amendment to attack religion, when they should be using it to protect religion.
The proper standard is the one applied by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 involving the Pledge of Allegiance. They ruled that no child can be compelled to say it, but their opposition to it does not give them the right to silence their classmates who do wish to say it. That is the standard that should be applied to religious expression on public property, and the standard that the Religious Freedom Amendment follows. Abstain if you wish, but don't try to censor everyone else. It's a lesson in tolerance that we all need to learn.
A Congressional website "billboard" for H.J. Res. 57 leaves even less to the imagination.
That public billboard leaves little to the imagination about the sponsors' intent. The quote that follows is from a "Q and A" page on the site, which has the Congressional seal on every page.
So I'm a school student, and a fellow student wants to say a prayer over the intercom and I don't want to hear it. Or, I'm a parent and I don't want my children to hear it.
Jewish organizations oppose Religious Freedom Amendment
The American Jewish Committee
The American Jewish Committee issued a statement noting that "We already have a Religious Freedom Amendment-the First Amendment to the Constitution -- which safeguards truly voluntary religious expression." Click here to read the statement.
The Anti-Defamation League
The Anti-Defamation League said "it poses the most significant church-state separation threat of the 105th Congress."Click here to read the ADL's statement.
A similar amendment narrowly defeated in 1998
Separation of Church, State Targeted
Constitutional Change Would Restore School Prayer, Religious Displays
By Laurie Goodstein and John E. Yang, Washington Post, March 25 1997
In 1997 Congressional conservatives, backed by right-wing religious groups, worked on drafting a constitutional amendment that would permit prayer and religious symbols in schools and other public settings. After compromise proved elusive Rep. Ernest Istook introduced a measure. Click here to read more.
Earlier Istook "Religious Freedom" amendment defeated
The Istook amendment was narrowly defeated in the House in 1998. An "Online Forum" from June 1998 on the Public Broadcasting System website gives a sense of the debate at the time. Click here to read the PBS forum.