Editor's note: Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va., introduced in the House on May 4 an amendment identical to Byrd's, the Associated Press reported.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd introduced a proposed
constitutional amendment on April 27 to allow — but not require — prayer in
public schools and extracurricular events.
Byrd said the First Amendment was never intended to bar voluntary expressions
of religion. The relevant part of the amendment says, "Congress shall make no
law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
"In my opinion, too many have not given equal weight to both of these
clauses. Instead, they have focused only on the first clause, which prohibits
the establishment of religion, at the expense of the second clause, which
protects the right of Americans to worship as they please," Byrd said in a
speech to the Senate.
"It seems to me that any prohibition of voluntary prayer in school violates
the right of our school children to practice freely their religion. And that's
just not right," Byrd said.
Byrd, D-W.Va., offered similar proposals in 1962, 1973, 1979, 1982, 1993,
1995 and 1997.
The latest amendment would have to be approved by Congress and the
legislatures of three-fourths of the 50 states within seven years of the
Byrd said the men who wrote the Constitution believed in a Supreme Being and
were proud of their faith.
"I believe that, in ruling after ruling, U.S. courts led by the Supreme Court
have been moving closer and closer to prohibiting the free exercise of religion
in America. It chills my soul," Byrd said.
Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of
West Virginia, said the amendment is not necessary because individual students
already can pray.
"When the rights of individuals to express their beliefs has been abridged by
the government, we have come to their defense in many cases," Schneider
Schneider noted that Byrd previously has said that the Constitution should
not be tampered with unnecessarily, and the ACLU agrees.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in separate cases that state-imposed
school prayer and moments
of silence in schools are unconstitutional. The Court has also said that
prayers at public school graduation
ceremonies are unconstitutional, as are student-led prayers over public
address systems at public school football
Byrd's proposed amendment reads, "Nothing in this Constitution, including any
amendment to this Constitution, shall be construed to prohibit voluntary prayer
or require prayer in a public school, or to prohibit voluntary prayer or require
prayer at a public school extracurricular activity."
Byrd said the amendment would not permit a school to advocate a particular
Byrd talked about the recent death of his wife, Erma, and the role of prayer
in their life together. But Byrd told the Associated Press that the timing of
his reintroduction of the proposed amendment had nothing to do with his wife's
"The right time is now," Byrd said. "If not now, when? It's an important step
to getting the country on the right track. We need to get back on our knees in
this country, get back to the things our forefathers believed in."
Byrd, 88, is seeking a record ninth term in this year's elections.
Byrd told the Senate the importance of prayer was recognized by nearly every
denomination. Those who think it is offensive "need only close their ears," he