GOP presidential hopeful and Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Sunday he would push a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in public schools.
“I would support a constitutional amendment that allows our children to pray in school anytime they would like,” said Perry during a Sunday appearance on Fox News.
Many see the issue not so much in terms of children being “allowed” to pray, but rather being “required” to pray.
“As the saying goes, ‘as long as there are tests in school, there will be prayer,’ will always be the case,” said constitutional attorney Bret Millsaps. “The larger issue becomes when children are required to pray or a specific time period for prayer is established with the confines of the school day. That ‘s what gets the ACLU excited and all up in arms.”
In the 1962 landmark case Engel v. Vitale, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the New York school district violated students’ First Amendment rights by requiring that they pray in the classroom prior to the start of each school day.
However, Perry takes exception to the high court’s ruling.
“I happen to believe that should be a local decision. That’s not the Supreme Court’s decision to be telling Americans when and how they should pray.”
In an effort to appeal to Christian voters – especially in Iowa – Perry said if elected president he would travel the country making the case for a constitutional amendment to allow school prayer.
The issue was brought to the forefront last week when the Perry campaign released an ad in Iowa where Perry made the following statement:
"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."
Although the 1962 ruling did ban organized prayer in public schools, several states do allow students to pray during school hours.
Carol Greta, general counsel for the Iowa Department of Education, said children in public schools are allowed to pray. However, she said the primary issue is that school employees may not coerce or force students to pray in school.
In Texas, school systems are mandated to provide a minute of silence each morning for children to pray on their own if they so desire.