School Prayer

August 16, 1983

Report Outline
Reagan's Prayer Amendment
First Amendment Questions
Religious Free Speech Issue
Special Focus

Reagan's Prayer Amendment

Widspread Support for Voluntary Prayer

Eight out of every 10 Americans believe public school students should be allowed to engage in voluntary prayer, a belief incorporated into the 1980 Republican Party platform and championed by President Reagan in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment. The amendment is scheduled to come to a vote in the Senate this fall. Its effect, says Reagan, would be to “remove the bar to school prayer established by the Supreme Court and allow prayer back in our schools.”

The simplicity of Reagan's pitch belies the controversy that has accompanied the school prayer issue for two decades. Teachers and school administrators, the people who would carry out the amendment's intent, tend to oppose it. Most mainline Protestant churches object. Even conservative Protestants represented by the National Association of Evangelicals oppose the amendment, as do Orthodox and Reform Jews. They all support the Supreme Court's 1962 school prayer decision, Engel v. Vitale. The Catholic church also opposes the president's amendment, but for a different reason. The church contends it doesn't go far enough. In addition to prayers in schools, it wants voluntary religious instruction.

Primary support comes from fundamentalist Protestant groups such as the Christian Broadcasting Network and the National Christian Action Coalition, and conservative political organizations such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, Howard Phillips' Conservative Caucus and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. But while school prayer clearly is a conservative issue, some conservatives in the presidents's own party do not support his amendment. In fact, two conservative senators have introduced competing measures with narrower objectives. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, has proposed a constitutional amendment allowing silent prayer or meditation, and student-run school prayer groups. Sen. Jeremiah Denton, R-Ala., has put forth a bill that would deny federal aid to school districts that did not allow students to meet at school facilities for religious purposes. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, R-Ore., has proposed a similar measure.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Religion and Schools
Dec. 20, 2002  Charter Schools
Feb. 15, 2002  School Vouchers Showdown
May 04, 2001  Faith-Based Initiatives
Jan. 12, 2001  Religion in Schools
Apr. 09, 1999  School Vouchers
Jul. 18, 1997  School Choice Debate
Feb. 18, 1994  Religion in Schools
May 10, 1991  School Choice
Aug. 16, 1983  School Prayer
Apr. 20, 1979  Private School Resurgence
Sep. 02, 1967  Private Schooling
Sep. 12, 1947  Religion in the Schools
Education Policy
Religious Freedom