Bipartisan Group Defeats Prayer Law

10/5/94

American Jewish Congress Hails "Stunning Bi-Partisan Repudiation of the Far-Right Social Agenda"

Contact: Mark J. Pelavin, 202-332-4001, or Marc D. Stern,
212-360-1545, of the American Jewish Congress

Applauding this morning's procedural vote in the Senate to block an attempt by Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.) to breathe new life into the Helms school prayer ammendment, AJ Congress Executive Director Phil Baum described the Senate move as "a stunning bi-partisan repudiation of Sen. Jesse Helms' attempt to hold federal education aid hostage to a far-right social agenda."

"Today's vote sends the clear message that Congress will not acquiesce to those who wish to tarnish our valued tradition of religious liberty by imposing government-sponsored prayer in the public schools," Baum added.

The Senate voted 75-24 to end a filibuster that threatened to effectively kill the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (H.R. 6) because the Helms school prayer language had not been adopted in the House-Senate conference committee which reconciled the two versions of the bill. The Senate had previously defeated the Helms amendment in July during its initial consideration of the legislation.

The full text of Baum's statement follows:

This morning's Senate vote was a stunning bi-partisan repudiation of Sen. Jesse Helms' attempt to hold federal education aid hostage to a far-right social agenda. Viewed together with the House of Representatives' recent vote not to send this vital legislation back to conference, today's vote sends the clear message that Congress will not acquiesce to those who wish to tarnish our valued tradition of religious liberty by imposing government-sponsored prayer in public schools.

The constitutional law of prayer in public schools is plain enough. Public schools may not sponsor prayer but neither may they interfere with the private religious expressions of their students. Almost without exception, schools and school officials understand these principles and apply them fairly and well.

We commend all those senators who voted for cloture, and particularly Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose dedicated and steadfast leadership was indispensable to today's victory. We look forward to final passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act later today, and the prompt signing of this important legislation.

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