House Resolution Would Permit School Board Prayer

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WASHINGTON -- The school year has ended for millions of children across the country.  But the work load for many school officials continues.

Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court banned school-sponsored prayer, the subject still stirs strong emotions on both sides.

The ban, however, fits into a larger debate about prayer in the public square.

Two-term Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg believes prayer is a part of America's DNA, pointing to the founding fathers who sought divine guidance as he does.

"It was like second nature that all of a sudden it was stopped and said, 'Let's go to prayer,'" the Republican lawmaker said.

As a former pastor who's now in public office, prayer plays a major role in Walberg's life. He's part of a network of legislators advancing laws that protect America's religious liberties.

One way he's trying to do that is with a House resolution supporting school boards that start their meetings with prayer, a practice that's brought lawsuits to some school boards and other local bodies in recent years.

"If you want to pray at a town hall meeting or a school board meeting or in the halls of Congress, that ought to be acceptable in the United States," he said.

Walberg bases his resolution on the fact that school boards are "deliberative bodies" and argues that it's constitutional.

He cited a 1983 Supreme Court decision that acknowledged "prayer is so deeply embedded in America's history and tradition that a public body making laws and invoking divine guidance is not in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause."

Meanwhile, court rulings appear to be trending toward the other side of the argument.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a Delaware school district where school board meetings started in prayer. Opponents of the prayer say the effort to promote Judeo-Christian values supports one religion over another.

"It creates a precedent, or at least the appearance, that that particular religious perspective has a special relationship with the government, and the government really shouldn't be taking a stand like that," Rob Boston, with Americans United, said.

As for Walberg, he said his resolution doesn't aim to infringe on anyone's freedom but rather to acknowledge the role and the power of prayer.

"We're not pushing on other people and saying you have to do this, but it's promoted freedom in this country and in the world, and we want to continue it," he said.

* Originally aired June 20, 2012.

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