Quick Note on Missouri’s ‘Right-to-Pray’ Amendment

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 8, 2012 — 30 Comments

In elections held yesterday, Missouri overwhelmingly passed a state constitutional amendment that claims to affirm their religious rights, reinforces a student’s “right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools,” and forces schools to post the Bill of Rights in schools. However, critics of the amendment pointed out that the ballot language doesn’t tell the whole story.

The ballot did not mention language in the amendment allowing students to refuse to participate in school assignments that violate religious beliefs, or ensuring elected officials the right to pray on government property. “This was misleading in its presentation and possibly unconstitutional in its application, so now we’re headed for the courts,” said Karen Aroesty of the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri and Southern Illinois.”

Simon Brown at Americans United says the amendment “opens the door for coercive prayer and proselytizing in public schools, allows students to skip homework if it offends their religious beliefs and infringes on the religious liberty rights of prisoners.” Brown points out that supporters see this as a way to roll back judicial decisions prohibiting school-led prayers.

measure supporters don’t see it that way. They think they’re somehow “undoing” the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1962 Engel v. Vitale decision barring government-mandated prayer. “Religious liberty is pretty important to [Missourians] and a high priority,” Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network, said, according to the Kansas City Star. “The public feels like the Supreme Court took this away from them over 50 years ago [with a ruling against mandatory school prayer].”

My Patheos Pagan Portal compatriot  Eric Scott, himself a Missourian, wrote a column about this amendment back in June where he assessed the changes and felt it is an attempt privilege the majority faith (Christianity) and the expense of minority faiths.

“Certainly this amendment would not lead to more open and equal protection of all religions. That protection is already guaranteed under the current wording, “Almighty God” aside. These new, specific tests of religious protection (i.e., the “freedom” to have one religion represent the beliefs of the entire state’s citizens, the “freedom” for schools to abdicate responsibility for teaching anything that might conflict with a student’s beliefs, and the stated lack of freedom for prisoners) demonstrate that this bill has nothing to do with real religious freedom. It is just an attempt to enshrine certain pet issues of conservative Christianity into Missouri’s Constitution under the guise of protecting religious expression.

I’ve been talking about religious freedom on this blog a lot lately, or should I say “religious freedom,” because most of the recent initiatives I’ve seen seem mostly to be attempts to ensure free reign for the majority at the expense of everyone else’s freedom.

“The problem with these attempts to codify “religious freedom” into law is that almost always benefits the majority at the expense of the minority. I have seen time and time again, in a number of different circumstances, when laws and policies that are supposed to be viewpoint neutral end up empowering one expression of faith in the public square. That’s bad when it involves adults struggling over the issue, but it becomes pernicious when we use our children as proxies in a fight over the nature of religious freedom and secularism within our country. It shows just how desperate and anxious sections of our  Christian majority have become.”

What this amendment will create are a lot of lawsuits, and expenses for the state of Missouri. It will, in all likelihood, be struck down once it’s appealed to the federal level. Until then, proponents of the new law will pretend they struck a blow against secularism, when all they’ve done is waste time and money in a crusade to roll back the clock on the post-Christian pluralistic reality of our society today.

Jason Pitzl-Waters