School Prayer

. Congresmnal Research Service The Library of Congress Washington, D.C. 20540 SCHOOL PRAYER IP0086S S i n c e t h e e a r l y 1 9 6 0 ~when ~ t h ~ Supreme C o u r t r u l e d t h a t S t a t e r e q u i r e d s c h o o l p r a y e r was i n c o n f l i c t w i t h t h e f i r s t amendment, t h i s i s s u e h a s r e m a i n e d a h i g h l y p u b l i c i z e d and c o n t r o v e r s i a l o n e . A number of c o u r t d e c i s i o n s s i n c e t h a t time have kept t h e i s s u e i n t h e public eye. P e r i o d i c a l l y , l e g i s l a t i o n h a s b e e n i n t r o d u c e d which would l i m i t t h e j u r i s d i c t i o n o f t h e Supreme C o u r t and t r a n s f e r a u t h o r i t y t o individual States. I n May, P r e s i d e n t Reagan s e n t a c o n s t i t u t i o n a l amendment t o C o n g r e s s w h i c h , i f r a t i f i e d , would p e r m i t s c h o o l p r a y e r . T h i s I n f o P a c k p r o v i d e s c o m p r e h e n s i v e c o v e r a g e o f Supreme C o u r t d e c i s i o n s and l e g i s l a t i o n o n t h e s c h o o l p r a y e r i s s u e from 1962 t o the present. Additional information on t h i s t o p i c , p r i m a r i l y i n p e r i o d i c a l s and n e w s p a p e r s , may b e f o u n d i n a l o c a l l i b r a r y t h r o u g h t h e u s e o f i n d e x e s s u c h a s t h e R e a d e r s ' Guide t o P e r i o d i c a l L i t e r a t u r e . P u b l i c A f f a i r s I n f o r m a t i o n S e r v i c e B u l l e t i n ( P A I S ) , a n d t h e New York Times Index. We hope t h i s i n f o r m a t i o n w i l l b e u s e f u l . Congressional Reference Division Reproduced w i t h p e r m i s s i o n of c o p y r i g h t c l a i m a n t by t h e L i b r a r y o f Congress, Congressional Research S e r v i c e , June 1 , 1982. Washington P o s t , May 18, 1982, p . A-10 Hill Gets Reagan's Prayer Amendment By Lou Cannon Wnshlngton Pa& Stall Wrlter President Reagan yesterday sent Congress a 37word proposed constitutional amendment that would permit voluntary prayer in school. The wording of the amendment represented what one White House aide called the "maximum defensible position" on school prayer and rejected the suggestions of some aides who favored treating "an affirmative right to prayer." The proposed wording reads: "Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit individual or group prayer in public schools or other public institutions. No person shall be required by the United States or by any state to participate in prayer." Essentially, the amendment would restore the law to what it was before the Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer in claw rooms two decades ago. Speaking to advocates of the amendment in the White House Rose Garden on May 6, Reagan urged a reawakening of "America's religious and moral heart" and protection of religion from *government tyranny." His advocacy of the amendment was a gesture to conservative evangelicals to whom Reagan had promised during the 1980 presidential campaign support for a school prayer amendment. But in settling on its wording, in language favored by presidential counselor Edwin Meese 111 and the Justice Department, the president opted for something less than the "affirmative right to prayer" that some of the most militant conservatives advocated. Theoretically, the amendment proposed yestcrday would allow states the option of outlawing school prayers. Reagan opted for a position that an aide described as "getting the federal government out of the business of protecting or invalidating prayer." Morton Blackwell, a special assistant to the president who is liaison to conservative groups, predicted speedy approval of the amendment by Congress and prompt ratification by the states. Blackwell, who helped draft the proposal, observed that polls showed that three-fourths of Americans supported the amendment despite opposition from a number of religious groups. T h e public expression through prayer of our faith in God is a fundamental part of our American heritage and a privilege which should not be excluded by law from any American school, public or private," Reagan said in a message accompanying the proposed amendment. CONGRESSIONAL RECORD- SENA PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL ON SCHOOL AMENDMENT PRAYER-MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT-PM 137 T h e PRESIDING OFFICER laid before the Senate the following message from the President of t h e United States, together with accompanying papers; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary: To the Congress of the United States: I have attached for your consideration a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the simple freedom of our citizens to offer prayer in our public schools and institutions. The public expression through prayer of our faith in God is a fundamental part of our American heritage and a privilege which should not be excluded by law from any American school, public or private. One hundred fifty years ago. Alexis de Tocqueville found that all Americans believed that religious faith was indispensable to the maintenance of their republican institutions. 1 de Tocqueville. Democracy i n America 316 (Vintage ed. 1945). Today, I join with the people of this Nation in acknowledging this basic truth, that our liberty springs from and depends upon an abiding faith in God. This has been clear from the time of George Washington. who stated in his farewell address: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. . . . (R)eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." 35 The Writings of Ge0~geWashington 229 (J. F'itzpatrick ed. 1940). Nearly every President since Washington has proclaimed a day of public prayer and thanksgiving to acknowledge the many favors of Almighty God. We have acknowledged God's guidance on our coinage, in our national anthem, and in the Pledge of Allegiance. As the Supreme Court has stated: "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." Zorach n. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313 (1952). The founders of our nation and t h e framers of the First Amendment did not intend to forbid public prayer. On t h e contrary, prayer has been part of our public assemblies since Benjamin Franklin's eloquent request that prayer be observed by the Constitutional Convention: "I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. . . . I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we May 17, 198.2 ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. . . . "I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring t h e assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business. . . ." 1 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 451-52 (M. Farrand ed. 1966). Just as Benjamin Franklin believed it was beneficial for the Constitutional Convention to begin each day's work with a prayer, I believe that it would be beneficial for our children to have an opportunity to begin each school day in the same manner. Since the law has been construed to prohibit this. I believe that the law should be changed. It is time for the people, through their Congress and t h e state legislatures, to act, using the means afforded them by the Constitution. The amendment I propose will remove the bar to school prayer established by the Supreme Court and allow prayer back in our schools. However, the amendment also expressly affirms the right of anyone to refrain from prayer. The amendment will allow communities to determine for themselves whether prayer should be permitted in their public schools and to allow individuals to decide for themselves whether they wish to participate in prayer. I am confident that such an amendment will be quickly adopted, for the vast majority of our people believe there is a need for prayer in our public schools and institutions. I look forward to working with Congress to achieve the passage of this amendent. RONALD REAGAN. 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