Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Godless Wednesday: MO Passes Right To Pray Amendment

Atheist and progressive circles are buzzing about the overwhelming (82.8% yes) passage of a ballot measure  in Missouri on Tuesday August 7th which purports to inscribe (and "defend") the right to pray in that state's constitution.

The measure was formally known as State Constitutional Amendment 2 but was informally known as the "right to pray" amendment. Here is the actual text of the Amendment (which did not appear on the ballot that voters saw)
That all men and women have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no human authority can control or interfere with the rights of conscience; that no person shall, on account of his or her religious persuasion or belief, be rendered ineligible to any public office or trust or profit in this state, be disqualified from testifying or serving as a juror, or be molested in his or her person or estate; that to secure a citizen's right to acknowledge Almighty God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience, neither the state nor any of its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion, nor shall a citizen's right to pray or express his or her religious beliefs be infringed; that the state shall not coerce any person to participate in any prayer or other religious activity, but shall ensure that any person shall have the right to pray individually or corporately in a private or public setting so long as such prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly; that citizens as well as elected officials and employees of the state of Missouri and its political subdivisions shall have the right to pray on government premises and public property so long as such prayers abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar circumstances; that the General Assembly and the governing bodies of political subdivisions may extend to ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General Assembly or governing bodies; that students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work; that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs; that the state shall ensure public school students their right to free exercise of religious expression without interference, as long as such prayer or other expression is private and voluntary, whether individually or corporately, and in a manner that is not disruptive and as long as such prayers or expressions abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar circumstances; and, to emphasize the right to free exercise of religious expression, that all free public schools receiving state appropriations shall display, in a conspicuous and legible manner, the text of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States; but this section shall not be construed toexpand the rights of prisoners in state or local custody beyond those afforded by the laws of the United States, excuse acts of licentiousness, nor to justify practices inconsistent with the good order, peace or safety of the state, or with the rights of others.
What voters actually saw on their ballot was:
Official Ballot Title:Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure:
  • That the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed;
  • That school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools; and
  • That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
It is estimated this proposal will result in little or no costs or savings for state and local governmental entities.

Fair Ballot Language:"yes" vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to provide that neither the state nor political subdivisions shall establish any official religion. The amendment further provides that a citizen's right to express their religious beliefs regardless of their religion shall not be infringed and that the right to worship includes prayer in private or public settings, on government premises, on public property, and in all public schools. The amendment also requires public schools to display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. 
"no" vote will not change the current constitutional provisions protecting freedom of religion.
If passed, this measure will have no impact on taxes.
The measure passed by 780,044 to 162,497 votes. One of the provision [that I bolded above] allows school children to not participate in school assignments which violate their religious beliefs. As melanie at the Friendly Atheist remarks, this looks like a "get-out-of-science-class-free card."

The ACLU is suing over the provision which actually reduces the rights of religious expression of those incarcerated in Missouri jails and prisons. Of course, it is truly doubtful that proponents of this measure were willing to support the expansion of religious rights for all people of faith in Missouri. It will be interesting to see how certain disfavored religions like Muslims, Sikhs and Scientologists uses these provisions, assuming some enlightened federal judge doesn't strike down the entire kit and caboodle first!

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