Two area lawmakers to push for school prayer next year

Monday, December 17, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Students would be able to voluntarily pray in school under a proposed change to the state Constitution two Southeast Missouri lawmakers will pursue next year.

The amendment, sponsored by Republican state Reps. Pat Naeger of Perryville and Rod Jetton of Marble Hill, would clarify that voluntary prayer is permitted in public schools. A landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision declared school-sponsored prayers unconstitutional.

However, Naeger said more recent court decisions have softened that position.

"It's time to restore the right and freedom for children to voluntarily pray, even while they are in public schools," Naeger said. "In this great nation, we are guaranteed freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

Naeger stressed that the amendment would not require students to pray or mandate a specific prayer.

If successfully passed through the General Assembly, Missouri voters would have the final say. Naeger predicted "a groundswell of support" for the measure.

"The time has come for us to take a strong stand for what is right, make our voices heard and lead this great nation back to what our founding fathers wanted," Naeger said.

Jetton said the Sept. 11 tragedy prompted the latest push to reinstitute prayer in Missouri schools.

He noted that the day of the terrorist attacks, Missouri House members held a prayer service in a Capitol hearing room and several days later Gov. Bob Holden did the same in a large public ceremony on state property.

"Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has said school children do not have the same right," Jetton said.

If the measure makes any headway, it is bound to stir controversy, just as the sensitive issue has for 40 years.

State Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said he intends to sign onto to the measure, though he isn't certain it will be successful during the 2002 session, which begins Jan. 9.

"I hope it will pass," Crowell said. "But if it doesn't, we're going to get ideas of why people have reservations, make it better and reintroduce it in the next session."

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