Panel Approves Silent-Prayer Amendment
Washington--The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment last week that would give students the right to pray silently in groups or individually in public schools. The vote on the measure was 12 to 6.
The proposal, which is sponsored by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, differs significantly from a proposed amendment backed by the Reagan Administration that would permit organized, vocal prayer in public schools. The full Senate rejected an earlier version of the Administration-backed amendment by a 55-44 vote in March 1984.
Action on the silent-prayer amendment was spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last June striking down an Alabama law that permitted public-school students to start their day with a period of silence for meditation or prayer.
Although the Court's majority in-dicated in that decision that similar laws in 24 other states might be upheld, promoters of the amendment contend it is needed to ensure that such laws are not struck down.
In order to become part of the Constitution, the proposal must be approved by two-thirds of both houses of the Congress and ratified by 38 states. Even its supporters concede, however, that the measure faces a number of imposing hurdles.
Last spring, school-prayer opponents in the Senate said "head counts" indicated that prayer advocates had lost three votes in the chamber following the 1984 Congressional elections. In addition, observers note that the Senate's recent overwhelming rejection of a measure that would have stripped federal courts of jurisdiction in school-prayer cases is indicative of the degree of anti-prayer sentiment in the chamber.--tm