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PRAYER PANEL IS WARNED IT CAN'T PLEASE EVERYONE

The Religious Liberties Committee - a group consisting largely of local clergy and citizens appointed by the Legislature to resolve the hotly debated issue of public prayer - wants to make everyone happy.

But chairmen Sen. Fred Finlinson, R-Salt Lake, and Rep. Byron Harward, R-Provo, advised committee members that it won't happen."No matter what we adopt, someone will file a lawsuit and we will find out that it meant something slightly different than we thought," Harward said Monday at the committee's third meeting in two months.

Finlinson added that if lawmakers can make decisions without being experts on an issue, the committee can too. "We may all not have legal backgrounds, but we will decide what is constitutional or not," he said.

The concern over pleasing everyone surfaced as committee members attempted to schedule more experts - some from out-of-state - to speak to the panel before it decides what to do with the Utah constitution's religious liberties section, which addresses public prayer. The committee should reach a recommendation - which could include amending the state's constitution - before the Legislature convenes in January.

But committee member Chris Allen, of the Society of Separationists, doesn't want to hurry. He recommended waiting until the state Supreme Court rules on an appeal to the society's successful lawsuit that halted public prayers in Salt Lake City and prompted the Legislature to appoint the committee.

Furthermore, he said, the committee earlier decided to avoid rushing the issue to get it on the ballot in November. A change in the constitution must be ratified by voters, so any change can't be addressed by voters before 1994.

But Harward said the committee doesn't have the luxury of taking its time. "The problem is we will have bills on this in the Legislature in January. And we are dead wrong if we think we have the choice to wait. We do have the choice to have an influence or not on the Legislature this session," he said.

Finlinson said the committee can accommodate all the expert testimony, as well as schedule two public hearings on Oct. 26 and Nov. 23. The public hearings may be held statewide via the microwave system set up by the state's colleges and universities.

So far, the committee has entertained recommendations to amend the state constitution. Other options are to adopt the federal constitution's provision on religious liberties, wait until the state Supreme Court rules or do nothing.

But on Monday, Spanish Fork attorney Matthew Hilton, who also represents the national Rutherford Institute, proposed a statute that could avoid lengthy constitutional changes.

Hilton said his "Maintaining Our Heritage of Freedom" act responds to educators' concerns about a lack of clear direction on when someone can say a prayer in school or when a teacher can mention religion in school instruction.

But Allen, whose group opposes changing the state's constitution, said such a statute or addition would weaken citizens' rights provided in the current constitution.

"This term `heritage' is a code word for the predominant religion in the area," Allen added, noting the committee's decision should represent all beliefs.