A non-binding resolution calling for a national day of prayer and fasting failed in the House yesterday, as Congress waded once again into volatile issues of religion and politics.
The measure was the latest congressional response to a series of highly publicized school shootings and hate crimes. Sponsored by Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho), the resolution recommended that national, state and local leaders "call the people they serve to observe a day of solemn prayer, fasting and humiliation before God."
But when it came up for a final vote, the proposal failed to receive the necessary two-thirds support under special rules governing the bill. The vote was 275 in favor, with 140 opposed and 11 voting present.
During debate this month on juvenile justice legislation, the House approved several measures aimed at putting religious symbols, including the Ten Commandments, back in schools and other public spaces. House members divided sharply yesterday on the wisdom of more measures promoting religious activity.
Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.) said the Chenoweth measure violated the principle of individual free will that defines Americans' conception of religion. He and others said the measure amounted to establishing an official religion.
"Perhaps it is time for us in Congress to preach a little less and practice a little more," Edwards said, prompting applause.
But backers of the resolution said Congress had invoked prayer on a number of occasions, and an emphasis on faith would help ease tensions in modern society. Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) argued that while the country appears outwardly successful, it is becoming consumed by issues such as "road rage and sky rage."
"If there ever is a time to call upon almighty God, it's now," Chenoweth said. "If there ever is a time we need healing, it's now."
The resolution drew praise from social conservative groups, which have welcomed the House's recent emphasis on family and religious values.
"It's nothing short of remarkable that the Ten Commandments passed. Pro-family issues are getting an increasing amount of attention," said Christian Coalition head Randy Tate.
But the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, said: "Our nation faces serious problems, but all the House can offer are pious platitudes and meaningless resolutions. . . . Calling people to prayer and worship is the job of our houses of worship. If the House has nothing better to do than stomp all over religion's turf, then it's time for them to take a summer vacation."
CAPTION: Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) sought day of "prayer, fasting and humiliation before God."