Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Missouri State Constitution Amended to Include "Right to Pray"

425px-Alexandre_Couder_-_Woman_Kneeling_in_Prayer_-_Walters_371369Amendment 2, the so-called "prayer amendment" to the Missouri state constitution passed by a hefty margin in yesterday's election.  

The Missouri constitution Article I, section 5, was amended to include this language:

  1. 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 to expand the rights of prisoners in stateor local custody beyond those afforded by the laws of the United States . . . .

Whether the Missouri Amendment 2 conflicts with First Amendment doctrine is uncertain, however, it does seem that it may provide students greater rights to "opt-out" of curriculum.  It may also prompt Establishment Clause challenges should the state take steps to "ensure" prayer at public events.

[image: Alexandre Couder, Woman Kneeling in Prayer, 1800s, via]

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