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Poll: Americans want religion to have larger role in public schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Despite decades of court rulings to the contrary, a majority of Americans say they believe religion should have a larger role in the nation’s public schools and that organized voluntary prayer should be allowed, according to a new Gallup poll.

The poll found that 60 percent of adults believe religion has “too little of a presence” in public schools and that 76 percent favor amending the U.S. Constitution to allow voluntary prayer in schools.

The poll of 1,001 adults was conducted Aug. 8-11 and released Aug. 26.

“[W]hatever arguments political leaders make about separation of church and state in the public schools, most Americans don’t seem to be persuaded,” Gallup’s David W. Moore wrote in an online analysis.

The U.S. Supreme Court has lessened religion’s role in public schools through a series of court rulings over the past four decades. In each instance the court went a step further, citing a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause:

— In the 1962 Engel v. Vitale case, the court ruled against organized voluntary prayer in public schools.

— In 1963 (Abington Township v. Schempp), the court said public schools could not lead students in daily Bible reading.

— In 1980 (Stone v. Graham), the court struck down a Kentucky law that required the Ten Commandments be posted in public school classrooms.

— In 1992 (Lee v. Weisman), the court said secondary school graduations could not include administration-organized, clergy-led prayers.

— In 2000 (Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe), the court ruled against a student-initiated, student-led public prayer at the football games of a Texas high school.

According to the poll, 27 percent of Americans say religion has “about the right amount” of presence in public schools, and 11 percent say it has “too much.” Twenty-three percent of those surveyed oppose a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in public schools.

The number of people in favor of an amendment has held mostly steady for more than two decades. In 1983, 81 percent of Americans favored such an amendment. In 1994, that number dipped to 73 percent, but in August 2001 it rebounded to 78 percent.

Americans, though, prefer a moment of silence. By a 69-23 percent margin, adults say that if given a choice, they would prefer a “moment of silence for contemplation or silent prayer” in their local schools over a “spoken prayer.”

“A major stumbling block for any such amendment would be the type of voluntary prayer allowed,” Moore wrote.

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  • Michael Foust