- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2005

RICHMOND — Lawmakers want to amend the state constitution to open schools and other public places to prayer and other religious activities.

Delegate Charles W. Carrico Sr. said the amendment is needed because there is a growing effort to silence Christians.

“I’m tired of hearing when you walk into a school you cannot profess your beliefs because you may offend someone else,” the Grayson Republican said.

Mr. Carrico, a retired state trooper, said he tried to use the Old Testament story of David and Goliath to inspire a group of students bound for the high school prom to avoid sex, drugs and alcohol. A parent filed a complaint against him, he said.

He noted his amendment does not require people to participate in prayer, and said the state will not create any official school prayers.

The amendment will be heard Monday in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. The amendment passed the House last week on a 69-27 vote. If it passes the Senate, it would go to voters in 2006. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

The amendment would allow prayer and other professions of “religious beliefs, heritage and traditions” on public property, including schools.

It is already legal for Virginia schools to allow time for silent prayer and to allow religious student clubs to meet during non-instructional time.

The Rev. C. Douglas Smith, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said the amendment is not a “prayer issue or religious issue,” and said he believes it is unconstitutional. “There is no question in anyone’s mind there are volumes of case law that would render this null and void immediately,” Mr. Smith said. “It puts at risk the constitution’s hundreds of years of history which have sought to protect religious freedoms.”

The amendment was up for consideration yesterday in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, but senators referred it to the Courts of Justice Committee at the request of Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, the Virginia Beach Republican who is chairman of that committee.

The panel quickly voted 8-5 to refer the amendment to Mr. Stolle’s committee.

“Clearly, with all its freedom-of-religion and First Amendment implications, this belongs before the Courts Committee,” Mr. Stolle said.

Backers of the amendment said they’re hopeful, but critics predict it will be difficult to get the amendment out of a Senate committee that historically has been unwilling to tinker with the state’s Bill of Rights. With no companion bill in the Senate, a defeat before Mr. Stolle’s committee early next week would kill the measure.

Mr. Carrico said he was disappointed his amendment was not heard yesterday, but said he has “faith” it will pass.

“It has just as good a chance there as anywhere else,” he told reporters.

Mr. Smith said he believes the amendment will be found unconstitutional in that committee, since “some of the Senate’s best legal minds” are members.

Debra Gold Linick, assistant director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, opposes the measure because she worries her 6-year-old daughter, Rebecca, will one day have religious views imposed upon her in the classroom.

“We don’t need prayer in schools during instructional time,” Ms. Linick, a Fairfax County resident, said yesterday. “We don’t send our kids to public schools to get a religious education.” The debate in the House was one of the more passionate this session.

“You shouldn’t have to check your deeply held beliefs at the door of the courthouse, at the door of the Statehouse or at the door of the schoolhouse,” said Delegate Bill Janis, Goochland Republican.

The amendment would affect the religious freedom guarantees created in the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican and a big fan of Jefferson, voted for the amendment, even though he said he hates “tinkering” with his idol’s words in the state constitution.

Several Democrats opposed the measure to say government should not be involved in religious matters.

“I am a cross-wearing, church-choir-singing, mission-trip-going, pledge-paying Christian,” said Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, Fairfax County Democrat. “But let me be clear ” this legislation is either unnecessary or unconstitutional.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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