Prayer issue heats up in Alabama

While lawmakers debate President Reagan's proposed constitutional amendment to permit officially sanctioned prayer in public schools, the issue is on a hot burner here in Alabama.

It is the first state to challenge a Supreme Court ruling in 1962 that a mandatory prayer written by a New York school board was unconstitutional. On July 12, Alabama Gov. Fob James signed a law that allows voluntary prayer in public schools. The law includes a ''suggested prayer'' written by Governor James's 25-year-old son.

A suit against the law was filed by a Mobile lawyer, Ishmael Jaffree, who says his children have been subjected to ridicule in school since the law was signed because they refused to join in group prayer.

In court Tuesday, US District Judge W. Brevard Hand rejected Alabama's argument that only God has legal jurisdiction over prayers, saying that ''the Lord is not a defendant.'' Fob James III, the son of the governor, had asked Judge Hand to dismiss the suit against the state's three-week-old school prayer law on grounds he lacked jurisdiction. ''No court has jurisdiction over the prayers of the American people,'' James argued.

''I do not perceive of this as a suit against the Almighty,'' said Judge Hand in dismissing the motion. ''The Lord is not a defendant - the state is.''

The judge continued the hearing until Thursday to give other attorneys time to call witnesses. The plaintiff, Mr. Jaffree, wants the judge to issue a temporary injunction against the law until the case can be tried.

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