A new ad hoc coalition of evangelical Protestant broadcasters and preachers plans to renew the fight for a reinstatement of prayer in public schools.
The new group, called the Coalition for the First Amendment and formed specifically to promote the school prayer amendment, was launched during the National Association of Religious Broadcasters' annual meeting here.
Rev. Phillip M. Crane (R-Ill.), who finished fifth in the field of Republican presidential contenders in this week's Iowa caucuses, asked participants to support a discharge petition he has filed to get the issue out of the House Judiciary Committee.
The Senate already has adopted a measure introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), that would remove the issue from the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.
Prayer in public schools has been a perennial political hot potato ever since the Supreme Court declared it was unconstitutional nearly two decades ago.
Helms, who addressed a breakfast meeting of the broadcasters' convention Wednesday, attacked Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.) chairman of the House Judiciary Committee for "bottling up" the bill in the House. He contended that Rodino "has a habit" of suppressing legislation that "he does not want but that the vast majority do want."
The new coalition urged radio and TV evangelists to encourage their listeners to pressure their Congress members to sign the discharge petition.
Crane said that about 50 of the required 218 signatures have been collected.
Both the congressmen and evangelists, in a rousing appeal for support of their position, charged that evils ranging from increased crime and drug abuse to the troubles in Iran and Afghanistan were the fruits of "expelling God from the classroom," in the words of the coalition's statement. "
Mainline Protestant churches have strongly supported the Supreme Court decisions on school prayer. The Catholic position has been ambiguous; the hierarchy has taken no stand on the Helms amendment.
Members of the coalition include such traditionally independent evangelists as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson of the 700 club, and Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ.