American Atheists, Inc.
P O Box 140195, Austin, TX 78714-0195
BBS: (512) 302-0223
For immediate release
"Concern over moral decline isn't at the heart of the Senate's votes to withhold funding from schools not permitting 'voluntary prayer' and to mandate a 'moment of silence' in the schools, Jon Murray, president of American Atheists, said today. "The desire to pander to religious voters is."
Murray spoke in reaction to amendments to the Goals 2000 education bill. One Thursday, a rider sponsored by Senator Jesse Helms was adopted which would deny federal funds to state or local agencies barring voluntary prayer. Today's resolution offered by Senator Danforth would encourage public school administrators to have a "moment of silence" each day for student to reflect on their religion.
Murray pointed out that truly voluntary prayer has always been allowed and available to public school students. "They can pray at home, before school, after school, at their lockers. What they cannot do," he continued, "is the same thing teachers and school adminstrators are not allowed to do: force other students to pray with them." This, he argued, is what happens when students vote to broadcast prayers on school loudspeakers or to include religious services at graduations and other school events.
Offering the bill to the Senate, Jesse Helms claimed that "You can pinpoint when the decline of this country began" -- referring to the 1963 Supreme Court decision disallowing Bible reading and prayer recitation in the public schools. The suit was brought before the court by Jon Murray's mother, Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
Jon Murray called Helms' statement "simplistic." He noted that the U.S. now has the highest church attendance in its history and that Atheists are statistically underrepresented in our nation's prisons. "It is valid to argue that the nation needs less religion -- not more -- to solve its 'ethical crisis,' " he commented.
"What is really going on in the Senate," he explained, "is that a majority of Senators seeks to avoid the real problems in this country by catering to emotional issues such as school prayer. Students will learn neither math nor good manners from a moment of silence or a prayer. It is the job of our schools to teach citizenship and the three R's -- and leave the fourth R, Religion, to the home and the church where it belongs."
Voting against the amendment denying funding to educational agencies not allowing 'voluntary prayer' were Senators Box, Feinstein, Inouye, Simon, Harkin, Kassebaum, Levin, Riegle, Wellstone, Danforth, Bryan, Moynihan, Glenn, Metzenbaum, Hatfield, Specter, Chafee, Pell, Jeffords, Leahy, Murray, and Feingold. The Goals 2000 education bill must be reviewed by a House and Senate conference committee before it can face a final vote by the two houses of Congress.