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December 12, 2011

Perry's School Prayer Amendment

I'm not sure why, but several commenters have accused me of putting words in Governor Perry's mouth when I wrote that he proposed an amendment to allow organized prayer in schools. I say "I'm not sure why" because Perry couldn't have been proposing anything other than a return to organized prayer in schools. Under the current state of the law, students are allowed to pray in public schools, both singly and in groups. What's currently prohibited in public schools is prayer organized by the school.

Let's go to the transcript:

WALLACE: Let me ask you, though, about the specific charge in that commercial. You say that gays can serve openly while children can't pray in school. It was the Supreme Court back in 1962 that decided and it's been upheld since then that children couldn't pray in school. Barack Obama had nothing to do with that...

PERRY: Well, let me back up and say that I would support a constitutional amendment that would allow our children to pray in school any time that they would like. Right now, those activist judges like Sotomayor and Kagan that he put on the Supreme Court, they would continue to say that that is a decision that the Supreme Court should make.

I happen to believe that that would be a local decision and that's not the Supreme Court's business to be telling Americans when and how they should pray.


WALLACE: The only point I'd make about prayer in school, is that has continued under -- the ban under Republican presidents as well as Democrats, including Reagan and both of the Bushes.

PERRY: I understand that. I'm just -- I'm telling you what I believe, Chris. And I happen to believe that Americans don't agree with that decision that was made in 1962. And that if we have a constitutional amendment election in this country, allowing our children to pray in school, I would suggest to you, will pass overwhelming.

What 1962 decision are Wallace and Perry talking about that took power away from local school districts by prohibiting prayer in schools? It was Engel v. Vitale, which---get this---held unconstitutional organized school prayers.

Maybe I was giving Perry too much credit. Maybe he really thinks that students aren't allowed to pray in public schools anymore. But I doubt he could be that out of touch with reality. The reaction to Engel (and the 1963 follow-up case Abington School District v. Schempp, which declared unconstitutional school-sponsored bible readings) was exceptionally negative when it was handed down and that reaction took exactly the form that Perry is now proposing: a School Prayer Amendment, which would overturn Engel and Abington School District.

The School Prayer Amendment was introduced by Democratic Senator Byrd in 1962, 1973, 1979, 1982, 1993, 1995, and 1997. It came closest to passing in 1998, when a Republican-led effort in the House of Representatives brought about a vote 224-203 in favor. That was sixty-one votes short of the 2/3rds needed. Attempts to get the amendment off the ground in 2001 and 2006 didn't get very far.

Like I said, I'm not sure why commenters want to downplay Perry's proposed amendment, unless perhaps the idea that he wants to re-institute organized school prayer embarrasses them.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 09:16 PM

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