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Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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Prayer protection amendment stalls for now
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Sen. Bill Stanley

Friday, February 8, 2013

By K.A. WAGONER - Staff Writer

A proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution to protect prayer as a "right to worship" was sent back to a Senate committee this week at the request of its patron Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Glade Hill).

"During Tuesday's Senate session, I reluctantly re-referred my religious liberty amendment (SJ 287) back to the Committee on Privileges and Elections for reconsideration during next year's General Assembly with no further action this year," Stanley said.

"It became clear that my proposed legislation did not have the needed support and required 21 votes necessary to pass a vote by the full Senate," he said. "By sending it back to committee, I will have additional opportunity to re-frame the proposed language for purposes of clarity and completeness, as well as to garner the strong support needed to pass the Senate."

Any senate bill proposing to amend the state's Constitution requires 21 votes before it can pass, Stanley said. And the Lt. Governor, who serves as president of the Senate, is not permitted to cast a tie-breaking vote on a Constitutional amendment.

"Therefore, a tie vote in the senate on my constitutional amendment would have defeated the bill and prevented it from passing," Stanley said. "Instead of forcing a vote on my bill at this time when it was clear that it didn't have the support to pass, referring it back to committee for another attempt next year was more prudent."

Stanley said he will continue to work to get the amendment passed during future sessions.

"I appreciate the wide support that my bill has received from the people of Virginia," he said. "I remain committed to advocating our freedom to practice our faith at a time and place of our choosing."

"And I remain committed to advancing this amendment during next year's General Assembly," Stanley added. "I can promise you that this amendment will be back before the General Assembly next year."

The proposed amendment addressed the freedom of religion, that the commonwealth shall not coerce any person to participate in any prayer of religious activity, but shall ensure that any person shall have the right to pray individually in a private or public setting so long as such prayers abide within the same parameters placed upon any free speech under similar circumstances, Stanley said.

This amendment also specified that students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work, he added.

Further, the amendment stated that public school students have the right to religious expression without interference as long as the expression is voluntary and fits within the boundaries of free speech, Stanley said. Public schools would also be required to display the Bill of Rights of the U.S.

"Over the years, our right to worship has been under constant attack by various organizations for the sole purpose of denying our personal right to worship," Stanley said. "Additionally, the doctrine of separation of church and state has been misconstrued by the courts and the government over the years, which has steadily removed God from the public forum, contributing to the moral decay of this country."

"We must reverse these trends. Religious freedom does not constitute freedom to worship just on Sunday, but also includes the freedom to express one's faith publicly as he or she sees fit," he added.

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