Rep. Istook Continues to Distort Facts About Religious Freedom


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Throughout the debate leading up to today’s House vote on his proposed government prayer amendment, Rep. Ernest Istook has repeatedly distorted and misstated the facts to fit his purposes. He continued those distortions in an op-ed article that appeared in the Washington Post just two days ago.

Rep. Istook is trying to build a case that we need to amend the Constitution to involve the government in religious matters, effectively eliminating the separation between church and state that is the cornerstone of true religious freedom in this country. His proposed constitutional amendment would deny religious liberty to some Americans and give school officials and other government officials the “freedom” to impose their religious views on everyone else.

The following are erroneous statements by Istook in the June 2, Washington Times:

Istook said:

“In 1962, the Supreme Court said it didn’t matter if it was voluntary, students could not pray together during school.”

The truth is:

The Court held that a statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms was unconstitutional because the statute had “no secular legislative purpose…[T]he preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature.” The Court recognized that teaching students about the Ten Commandments could be integrated into a school curriculum, for example, “in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like.”

Istook said:

“In 1985, the Supreme Court said even a moment of silence was forbidden, because students would use that moment to pray silently.”

The truth is:

The Court found an Alabama moment of silence law was unconstitutional because it was encacted “for the sole purpose of expressing the State’s endorsement of prayer activities.” Justice O’Connor specifically noted that many states had moment of silence laws that were not invalid. The courts have upheld truly neutral provisions, such as Georgia’s.

Istook said:

“In 1992, the Supreme Court said a rabbi broke the law by offering prayer at a public school graduation.”

The truth is:

The Court held that the government, not the rabbi, had violated the Constitution by sponsoring a religious exercise at a public school graduation, making the graduating students a captive audience to prayer in which “young graduates who object are induced to conform.”