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School Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and Congress

Responding to public demand for school prayer, federal lawmakers have occasionally sought a remedy of their own. Few advocates of school prayer believe legislation can survive judicial review. Thus, the chief proposal to enjoy perennial favor is the idea of a constitutional amendment.

Following the first 1962 prayer ruling, lawmakers flooded Congress with such proposals but never passed any. Attempts were revived over the decades, with the most serious coming in the late 1990s. But constitutional amendments face difficult legal hurdles. Even before a proposed amendment can be sent for a state-by-state vote on ratification, it must pass by a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives. Historically, lawmakers are significantly reluctant to tamper with the Constitution. Thus in June 1998, House members voted 224 to 203 in favor of a school prayer amendment, but that simple majority fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval.

Another Congressional effort has borne some success for school prayer advocates. In 1984, with strong backing from conservative religious groups, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed the Equal Access Act. The law requires any federally-funded public secondary school to allow all school clubs, including religious organizations, equal access to facilities. As representatives of the state, teachers and officials are instructed not to encourage or solicit participation in these activities.

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