THE POORLY named "Religious Freedom Amendment" was recently voted down by the House of Representatives.
This proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, sponsored by Rep. Ernest Jim Istook Jr., an Oklahoma Republican, would have undermined one of the founding principles of this nation, the separation of church and state.
The measure -- which attracted surprising support and is certain to be resurrected -- says "the people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed." Proponents contend that the Founders never meant to bar religious expression in public places, only establishment of a state religion.
The Istook amendment not only flies in the face of constitutional history, it is unnecessary and destined to restrict religious freedom. The courts have consistently upheld the right of individuals to pray privately, read religious texts and engage in .. other religious activity on public property. Student-run religious groups, for example, commonly meet on school grounds.
If it ever passes, this amendment would make schools and other public places strategic venues for competing religions. Though the measure says government may not establish an official faith, unofficial government endorsement of Christianity would be inevitable. As the Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, notes, the amendment would "unleash majoritarian rule."
The Constitution has been amended only 27 times in more than " 200 years, including the Bill of Rights. True conservatives tamper with it as little as possible. Today or tomorrow, we should not mess it up with the kind of zealotry that was behind the Religious Freedom Amendment.
Pub Date: 6/15/98