The Religious Freedom Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Ernest Istook (R.-Okla.), lost 224 to 203 in a House vote on June 4, 61 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The proposed measure, supported by 197 Republicans and 27 Democrats, would have allowed religious expression in schools, including organized prayers (CT, Apr. 27, 1998, p. 15).
Opponents say it politicizes religion, allowing majority faiths to rule. "It should have been called the 'Religious Tyranny Amendment,' " says James Dunn, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee. "We'd have Mormon prayers in Utah, Baptist prayers in Atlanta, Buddhist prayers in Hawaii, and Islamic prayers in south Bronx."
Some critics view the vote as a lobbying tactic by the Christian Coalition to obtain a voting record for their 45 million voter guides to be distributed this fall. Lawmakers who voted against the measure will be listed unfairly as against God and prayer, says Dunn.
Christian Coalition executive director Randy Tate says the vote is a "launching pad" for future legislative efforts to protect religious liberty. "Prayer and the expression of one's faith is part of the solution, not the problem."
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