School Prayer Amendment

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The School Prayer Amendment is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution intended by its proponents to legislatively overturn certain Constitutional prohibitions against government sponsored prayer, including at public schools. Those prohibitions, which vary according to the setting in which a prayer may be offered, arise out of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and specifically the Establishment Clause. The interpretation of the Establishment Clause is particularly strict when it comes to primary and secondary public schools, and prohibits prayer that appears to have the imprimatur of the administration on it.


In the cases Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), the United States Supreme Court ruled that government mandated school prayer is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.



`SECTION 1. To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. The Government shall not require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, initiate or designate school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion.'.



Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia proposed the amendment in 1962, 1973, 1979, 1982, 1993, 1995, and 1997.[2]

The New York Times reported in July 1999 that the House of Representatives, at that time occupied by a Republican majority, had long been proposing such an amendment but was preoccupied with a competing, more general amendment allowing for "religious freedoms" proposed by Henry Hyde, then-Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.[3] Representative Ernest Istook, a Republican from Oklahoma's 5th congressional district, proposed the amendment on May 8, 1997.[1] In March 1998, the Judiciary Committee passed the bill by a 16-11 vote.[4] On June 4, 1998, the full House voted on the amendment, 224-203 in favor.[1] The vote was 61 short of the two-thirds majority required by Article Five of the United States Constitution to pass a constitutional amendment.[5]

Istook reintroduced the amendment to Congress twice: first in 1999 as the House Joint Resolution 66[6] and in 2001 as the "Religious Speech Amendment".[7] Byrd proposed the amendment again on April 29, 2006.[2]

Though the proposed amendment failed to be adopted, it led to the passing of the Equal Access Act.

Rick Perry, governor of Texas and Republican a former candidate for the 2012 presidential election, said in an interview on Fox News Sunday on December 11, 2011: "I would support a constitutional amendment that allows our children to pray in school anytime they would like."[8]


The Freedom From Religion Foundation,[9] American Civil Liberties Union,[10] and Americans United for Separation of Church and State[11] have all expressed opposition to this amendment. The Family Research Council has supported it.[12]


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b "Sen. Byrd introduces amendment allowing school prayer". Associated Press. 2006-04-30. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  3. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q. (1996-07-16). "Republicans in Congress Renew Push for Vote on School Prayer Amendment". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  4. ^ Van Biema, David (1998-04-27). "Spiriting Prayer Into School". Time. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  5. ^ "Votes in Congress". The New York Times. 1998-06-07. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Rep. Istook to Reintroduce School Prayer Amendment to U.S. Constitution". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 2001-10-29. Retrieved 2009-01-31. [dead link]
  8. ^ Schoenberg, Shira (December 12, 2011). "Rick Perry calls for constitutional amendment allowing school prayers". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  9. ^ Gaylor, Annie Laurie (1995). "The Case Against School Prayer". Freedom From Religion Foundation. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  10. ^ "Constitutional Amendment on School Prayer". American Civil Liberties Union. 2002-03-11. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  11. ^ "Istook School Prayer Amendment Unnecessary, Divisive And Dangerous, Says Americans United". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 2003-04-08. Retrieved 2009-01-31. [dead link]
  12. ^ "Family Research Council". Right Wing Watch. People for the American Way. 2008-08-25. Retrieved 2009-02-01.