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Hyde: School prayer amendment needed

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said Tuesday that judges and school districts trying to keep church and state separate often discriminate against students who want to express religious feelings in public.

That's why the nation needs another constitutional amendment clarifying the role of religion in public life, he said.

Some witnesses testifying before a House subcommittee agreed, urging Congress to approve a Republican plan to guarantee students the right to pray in public schools "without government sponsorship or compulsion."

Supporters said the plan is needed to prevent the hundreds of faulty decisions routinely made each year by officials who mistakenly believe the Constitution requires them to stamp out all religious expression in public places.

Opponents said the last thing religious Americans need is a revised First Amendment. Education is the answer, the Rev. Oliver S. Thomas, special counsel for the National Council of Churches, told the House Judiciary Committee constitution subcommittee.

"The amendment before you is fraught with problems," Thomas said. "So much so that to pass this measure would diminish _ not expand _ the exercise of religious faith."

The proposed amendment seeks to clarify guarantees of religious liberty already in the Constitution but sometimes misunderstood. It was introduced by Hyde, the Judiciary Committee chairman, and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.

"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," Hyde said.

"Public school teachers, who accept reports on witches, forbid students from writing reports on Jesus."

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