Ten years ago, at the height of his popularity, then-President Ronald Reagan pressed the Senate to approve an identically worded amendment, but it fell 11 votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority. At the time, many senators said they decided to oppose the amendment when 50 prominent church organizations, representing Protestants, Catholics and Jews, announced their opposition.
Among the "no" votes then were seven Republicans who will return to Capitol Hill in January. They are Sens. John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, William S. Cohen of Maine, Slade Gorton of Washington, Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, Bob Packwood of Oregon and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
A few months after the prayer amendment failed in 1984, Congress passed the Equal Access Act, which gives secondary-school students the right to pray together or read the Bible on campus before class, during lunch or after school.
"If you want genuine, unencumbered prayer by students, it is already guaranteed under the Equal Access Act," McFarland said. "We don't need to mess with the First Amendment."