Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decisions of 1962 and 1963 that outlawed government-required prayers and Bible reading in the public schools, some state and federal legislators have been trying to find a way to restore them on a voluntary basis. One of the most persistent crusaders has been Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a Baptist from North Carolina.

Helms last year served notice that he would attach to a judicial bill an amendment that would permit “voluntary” prayer in public schools. The Senate let the bill languish in committee, so there was no vote on the prayer issue. Last month the senator introduced a surprise amendment to liberal-backed legislation that would create a Cabinet-level department of education. Under the amendment, school prayer cases could be decided only by state courts; the federal court system could not intervene. On a roll call following a tie vote, the amendment passed by a vote of 47 to 37.

It is ironic, argued Helms, that the Senate begins each session with prayer while millions of school children are denied the same privilege.

Supporters of the education bill, warning that the legislation would be killed if the prayer rider remained, called a recess to work out strategy. Over the weekend, church leaders on both sides of the issue bombarded senators with telegrams and telephone calls.

Helms read into the record telegrams of support from television preacher Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson of Christian Broadcasting Network, Ben Armstrong of National Religious Broadcasters, Robert Dugan of the National Association of Evangelicals, James Boice of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and others.

Among those leading the attack against the Helms move was Pastor Jimmy Allen of First Baptist Church ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.