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Feb 8 2005
Virginia House Passes Religious Freedom Resolution


Associated Press Writer

Published February 8, 2005

RICHMOND, Va. -- A proposed constitutional amendment that would open all public property--including schools--to prayer and other religious activities passed the House of Delegates Tuesday.

The resolution, which passed 69-27, is needed to curb a growing effort to silence Christians, sponsor Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr. said.

"America was founded on Christian beliefs," said Carrico, R-Grayson. "Christianity is the majority faith in this country and yet because the minority has said, 'I'm offended,' we are being told to keep silent ."

Opponents argued that religious expression is already permitted inside Virginia's public schools, pointing out that students are allowed to have Bible clubs, pray independently and wear religious-themed clothing.

"I am a cross-wearing, church choir singing, mission trip-going ... Christian," said Del. Kristen Amundson, D-Fairfax County. "But let me be clear--this legislation is either unnecessary or unconstitutional."

The proposed Constitutional amendment would permit the exercise of religious expression, including prayer and "religious beliefs, heritage and traditions," on public property. But the bill prohibits schools or other political subdivisions from composing prayers or forcing anyone to engage in religious activity.

The change would affect religious freedom guarantees rooted in the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and reflected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Del. Albert C. Pollard Jr. argued the government has no place involving itself in religious matters.

"Religion, specifically Christianity, is in our heart, not in the codebook, not in the Constitution," said Pollard, D-Lancaster. "Most of us don't trust government ... why in the world do you want to insert government into your religion?"

Carrico told the House the bill is necessary to protect religious expression. Before he retired as a Virginia state trooper, Carrico said he was rebuked for recounting the Old Testament story of David vs. Goliath in an address to high school students.

"I have no ill intent towards any other belief with this legislation," Carrico said. "However, I'm tired of hearing that when you walk into a school or walk on public property, that you cannot express your beliefs because you may offend someone else."

Constitutional amendments in Virginia must win House and Senate passage in two sessions with a legislative election in between, then be submitted to voters in a statewide referendum. The earliest vote on the constitutional change would be November 2006.

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