Public schools may be more religion-friendly when students return to class this fall. President Clinton, speaking at a Virginia high school in July, spelled out how religion can be integrated into public education without running afoul of First Amendment restrictions or recent Supreme Court rulings.

Yet many conservatives say the President's assurance that "the First Amendment does not convert our schools into religion-free zones" is too little, too late to defuse gop efforts to pass a religious-equality amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Following on the heels of a half-dozen Supreme Court rulings that bar governments from pleading the First Amendment's Establishment Clause as an excuse to forbid religious expression in forums open to other topics, Clinton unveiled his list of religion "do's and don'ts" before an audience of 600 leaders at James Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia.

"It appears that some school officials, teachers and parents have assumed that religious expression of any type is either inappropriate, or forbidden altogether, in public schools," Clinton said. However, he explained, the First Amendment not only permits, but protects a wide range of religious expression in public schools, including private prayer and Bible reading; expression of religious beliefs in homework and artwork assignments; the wearing of religious clothing and messages; discussion of religion among students; and lessons about the role of religion in American culture and literature.

"I hadn't quite realized there's as much running room as the President pointed out," conceded education leaders like Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission to the States, an educational policy organization.

"There does tend to be a fair amount ...

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