The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Southern Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission (CLC) have dropped opposition to a congressional religious freedom amendment introduced by Rep. Ernest Istook (R.-Okla) on May 8.
While Istook has enlisted the support of those two evangelical organizations—along with previous backers such as the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and Family Research Council—opposition remains in the Christian camp.
The CLC switched April 21 after Istook added "according to the dictates of conscience" to the amendment's wording. The NAE, which earlier had reservations about protection of minority religious views (CT, April 28, 1997, p. 77), endorsed the proposal on May 1 after Istook made further revisions.
The amendment now reads: "To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people's right to pray and to recognize religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. The government shall not require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity; initiate or designate school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion."
Christian Legal Society Director Steve McFarland says his group still has reservations because the Istook provision "would allow government the power to prefer one religion over another" rather than guarantee government neutrality toward religion.
Melissa Rogers, a lawyer with the Baptist Joint Committee, calls the amendment unnecessary and dangerous—because it would allow such activity as a student-led prayer over a school intercom.1
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