Most Utahns think children should be able to pray voluntarily in public schools, the latest Deseret News/KSL poll shows. But they don't think schools should promote prayer and many don't believe Congress should spend a lot of time on the matter.

Voluntary prayer will be an issue in the new, Republican-controlled House and Senate. Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has already promised a vote on voluntary prayer by July. That vote may take the form of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically allowing voluntary prayer in public schools.President Clinton says he's not opposed to some kind of law - not a constitutional amendment - that would specifically allow a moment of silence in schools. The children may pray quietly themselves or just remain still.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that congregational-type prayers in a classroom violate the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution.

Gingrich says he wants to stop the practice of punishing schoolchildren who pray, and gives the example of a child who was warned not to say grace over his school lunch out loud.

In a poll conducted for the newspaper and TV station several weeks ago, pollster Dan Jones & Associates found that 64 percent of Utahns favor a constitutional amendment that would allow voluntary school prayer. Twenty-seven percent oppose such an amendment and 9 percent didn't know.

However, the numbers change if the question is whether school officials should promote prayer. Jones found that 64 percent oppose the promotion of prayer in public schools, 27 percent think teachers and administrators should promote prayer and 9 percent didn't know.

Finally, Jones asked what kind of priority Congress should give such an amendment. Only 14 percent said congressmen should give it a high priority in the upcoming session; 35 percent said medium priority, 28 percent said low priority and 19 percent said it shouldn't be considered at all.

Thus, 47 percent said Congress shouldn't consider such an amendment or should just give such a bill a low priority - showing that many Utahns want other matters to take precedence.

Jones found that 76 percent of those who said they are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints favor a constitutional prayer in the schools amendment, 55 percent of those who say they're Protestants support it. However, 53 percent of the Catholics oppose such an amendment, Jones found.


Additional Information

Deseret News/KSL poll

Would you favor or oppose a Constitutional amendment to allow for prayer in public schools?

Favor 64%

Oppose 27%

Don't know 9%

In your opinion, should public schools promote organized prayer?

Should 27%

Should not 64%

Don't know 9%

What priority should Congress give the prayer issue?

High priority 14%

Medium priority 35%

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Low priority 28%

Not even

considered 19% Don't know 4%

Poll conducted Nov. 29-30, 1994. Margin of error +/- 4.0 % on interviews of 605 registered voters. Conducted by Dan Jones & Associates. Copyright 1994 Deseret News.

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