After a year long effort to convince Congress that a constitutional amendment is the only way to end government discrimination against religion, conservative groups are now arguing among themselves which of the two religious-equality amendments proposed by House Republicans is better.

The first is a 45-word amendment introduced November 15 by Henry J. Hyde, a Catholic from Illinois who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. It would protect religious expression in public schools and other venues from government interference by providing the courts with an authoritative interpretation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Hyde's amendment would not change fundamental principles of constitutional law, says Michael McConnell, a church-state scholar at the University of Chicago who helped draft the religious-protection language in Hyde's amendment. "It [describes] what those principles are and makes clear that the Establishment Clause should no longer be misused as a basis for hostility against religion."

At present, McConnell contends, "Government officials are under the impression that discrimination against religious speech is not only constitutionally permissible, but required."

Steven McFarland, director of the Annandale, Virginia-based Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom, says, "The Supreme Court has frequently cloaked discrimination in the guise of neutrality." McFarland's organization is one of about a dozen groups that participated in drafting the language that Hyde used in his amendment. "A mere statute cannot correct constitutional misinterpretations," McFarland says. "Only an amendment can head off decades ...

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