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CLERGY DIVIDED ON ISSUE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTIES

See other religion news on A8.A constitutional amendment mandating religious liberties - including the right to pray in public schools and display religious symbols like Nativity scenes on public property - has broad Utah support.

But the actual wording of such an amendment has not been finalized - and even clergy who support the concept believe it must be done carefully and judiciously.They favor time for silent prayer and introspection over organized, one-religion prayers.

A Deseret News/KSL poll, conducted by Dan Jones and Associates, found that 57 percent of those queried support such an amendment, while 36 percent oppose it. The rest didn't know. The error margin for the sample was plus or minus 4 percent.

Clergymen are divided on the issue. Those who support a religious liberties amendment say that atheism has become the new state religion; that Christians suffer dis-crimination. Those who oppose it say there's a time and place for religious expression - and that time and place is not in public schools or during government functions.

"I support an amendment if it's going to prevent discrimination," said the Rev. Alfred Murillo, pastor of Mt. View Christian Assembly, 300 E. 8000 South, who believes Christians face discrimination. "But it's hard to see how an amendment is going to change people's viewpoints or personality.

"When you're able to give liberties in one area, you are going to give liberty to everybody who would claim freedom religiously, including cults. It could seem to get worse and worse. There's the possibility of it backfiring."

The Rev. Murillo believes people should have the right to pray where and however they want. "Not over the intercom, but if someone wanted to pray, it wouldn't be opposed by anyone. Let students have the liberty topray when they want to and at appropriate times. You can't govern a kid to pray and say do it this way, but let them have the freedom to pray. I believe life will be changed when more and more kids have freedom to share their faith."

"I'm pretty much a strict separationist," said Bill Hamilton-Holway, co-minister of the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. "I believe it's important in a democratic society that the rights of minorities be honored and that any time we begin to compromise that, we create a situation where even if a majority of people are thoughtful and sensitive, the power of being a majority begins to compromise the rights of the minority.

"I don't believe Christians have been discriminated against, any more than white males are. They continue to be the majority of the power structure in the country. The question isn't do Christians and people of other religious backgrounds have a right to speak.

"We all have the right to speak at certain times and places, but not in school," he said.

"I do believe that the Christian community has been discriminated against and placed in the position of being the outsiders and unacceptable," said the Rev. Mike Gray, pastor of Southeast Baptist Church, 1700 East and 7000 South. "It's such that we have no freedom to display our faith in public.

"It needs to be restored, but always with a caution that is not overstepped. Our faith musn't step on everyone. The issue of prayer in public school is one I think is rightfully debated."

The Rev. Gray believes children should be exposed to people of different faiths, "at the same time believing our government doesn't have the right to take away all our freedoms and expressions."

The Constitution already addresses religious freedom, according to the Rev. Gray. The problem is, government has overstepped the bounds that were given, so that separation of church and state has become a battleground rather than a way of telling the government not to interfere in how people worship.

"For years, it wasn't a problem. Now we've gone from one extreme to another. I believe a good balance is possible, that allows freedom of expression of faith and living it out but doesn't force it on others," the Rev. Gray said. "I know it's a difficult line."

"If there is a predominant religion, that religion owes it to everyone else to respect individual con-science and the right to practice their faith," said Father Rudolph A. Daz, priest at St. Olaf's in Bountiful, 276 E. 1700 South. "All of the religions must be given equal respect. When the Muslims opened a mosque in Rome, the Holy Father said, `My hope is in Moslem countries, Christians would be accorded the same respect.' "

Father Hamilton-Holway dismisses the notion that children who hear something in school they don't like should "just go into the hall while the rest of us pray. That's totally inappropriate. People have a fundamental right not to be in a position where they can be dis-crim-inated against. And that's discrimination."

But Jay Liechty, former state school board chairman and LDS writer, believes that atheism has, in fact, become the official state religion in schools and government.

"It's not billed as religious. It's billed as civil rights and morally neutral and things of that nature, but they are in fact religious doctrines. It doesn't take much of an effort from an intellectual standpoint to become convinced secular humanists think they are a religion."

He believes separation of church and state is an atheist concept. "It's impossible to enforce unless a single religion is singled out. You cannot enforce it because there's an opposing viewing to everything. Take abortion, for example. If you force out of government the support of abortion, then you have established the opposing viewpoint and vice versa."

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Additional Information

Deseret News/KSL poll

Congress is now considering a constitutional amendment that would mandate religious liberty for Americans. Although the wording of the amendment is not finalized, items to be addressed include prayer in public schools and the display of religious symbols such as Nativity scenes on public property. Would you favor or oppose an amendment to mandate religious liberty?

Strongly Favor 39%

Somewhat Favor 18%

Somewhat Oppose 13%

Strongly Oppose 23%

Don't Know 7%

Poll conducted July 29 - Aug 1, 1995. Margin of error + or - 4% on interviews of 606 adults statewide. Conducted by Dan Jones & Associates. Copyright 1995 Deseret News.