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Using prayer for political gain

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Will Republicans ever give up on trying to tack a school prayer amendment onto the U.S. Constitution? No, nay, never. Cockroaches will disappear from the face of the Earth before that happens.

You can always count on the House GOP to try to keep prayer on the political agenda. Republicans are pushing for a vote on a constitutional amendment to allow organized prayer in public school by early September in the hopes that it will blossom into a wedge issue in the November congressional elections. Right now, they are trying to decide the language of the amendment. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., have been stuck on how best to phrase it to withstand a court challenge. Istook's proposal explicitly allows "student-sponsored prayers in public schools." Hyde's proposal focuses on "religious freedoms" without specifically making reference to prayer. House Majority Leader Dick Armey has offered a compromise that combines the two proposals.

None of the ideas makes sense. The First Amendment already gives students the freedom to pray in school, individually or in groups, as long as they don't disrupt classes or impose on students who do not wish to participate. So why fuss with an amendment when the right already exists? The answer is politics. By forcing a vote on this issue so close to the election, the GOP hopes to use it against any Democratic lawmaker who votes no.

Fortunately, members of the Senate have no plans to take up the school prayer issue this year. The only thing we can be sure of is that it won't go away.