We Don't Need a Religious Freedom Amendment

Published in the Rocky Mountain News on September 18, 1997


The Christian Coalition recently announced that it will press Congress, during the fall session, to pass a religious freedom amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment, which would allow student-sponsored prayer in public schools and would forbid religious discrimination by federal and state governments, has been introduced in response to numerous federal court rulings in recent years which have trampled on our religious freedoms. The proposed amendment is a bad idea in that it merely addresses the symptom of a rogue judiciary rather than its causes.

If President Clinton is as totally depraved as Republicans would have us think he is, you would think that, as a majority party, they would use every means available to thwart his efforts to load the bench with federal judges. However, in the last three years, Republicans have routinely rubber-stamped his judicial nominees. Confirmation hearings, which Democrats often turned into media circuses, are now mere ticket-punching rituals.

Article 3, Section 2, and Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution empower Congress to limit the scope of federal judicial authority. Congress has the power to, say, pass laws limiting the authority of federal courts in ruling on matters pertaining to education, and area from whence so many frivolous church-state cases arise. By passing such a bill, Republicans exercise real clout as a majority party, even if Mr. Clinton vetoed it.

By the way, what happened to all that enthusiasm among religious conservatives for getting Uncle Sam out of education? The "student-sponsored prayer" clause of the proposed religious freedom amendment would put the federal government squarely into the area of education, where the Constitution has never before authorized a federal role. Is this a sign of tacit surrender by religious conservatives?

Freedom of religion is already adequately guaranteed in the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment. What we need is not a feel-good amendment, but rather representatives who understand the entire Constitution (i.e., the real contract with America) and who will use all the resources it provides to restore genuine religious freedom for all. If that means finding an entirely new bunch of congressmen and senators, so be it.

Douglas F. Newman

Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman

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