The August election is less than two weeks from now. It is the primary election for state offices and Congress. I doubt I had to remind you of that if you watch the television at all. We are inundated with political advertisements. I am just grateful for the DVR. These endless and mindless advertisements from now until November will be a good reason not to watch live television.

The August election is less than two weeks from now. It is the primary election for state offices and Congress. I doubt I had to remind you of that if you watch the television at all. We are inundated with political advertisements. I am just grateful for the DVR. These endless and mindless advertisements from now until November will be a good reason not to watch live television.

There is another issue on the ballot in August called the Missouri Public Prayer Amendment. The amendment was supposed to be on the ballot in November, but for some reason it is on the August ballot instead. Here is the ballot issue: 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.


There has been a legal challenge to this proposed amendment filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. This challenge is that the actual ballot language does not accurately reflect the amendment itself. The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the ballot language and the election will proceed.

The amendment repeals the Constitution by repealing Article I, Section 5 of the Missouri Constitution which states as follows:

That all men 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 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 person or estate; but this section shall not be construed to 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.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution also includes provisions relevant to free exercise of religion. It states as follows: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution not only repeals the current provision, but adopts a new provision that frankly is so long that it would occupy the rest of my column.  If I can summarize, the amendment provides:

That a citizen’s right to pray or to express religious beliefs shall not be infringed; That state can’t coerce anyone to pray or participate in religious activity That citizens shall have the right to pray privately or publicly individually or corporately as long as it does not disrupt the peace or disrupt a public assembly or meeting; That citizens have the right to pray on public property; That governing bodies can provide for invocations at their meetings; That students can express their religious beliefs orally or in writing in assignments without discrimination based on the content of their work; That students can’t be compelled to participate in assignments or presentations that violate their religious beliefs; That students can pray in school as long as it is in private, voluntary and not disruptive; The Bill of Rights must be openly displayed in public schools;


I doubt there will be much organized opposition to this amendment. The principle thought of the opposition is that it is unnecessary because current federal and state provisions provide full protection. I have frequently heard many people state that one of the problems with this country is that we don’t have prayer in public schools. My response is that we already have prayer in public school. There is absolutely nothing that prevents a student, parent or teacher from praying voluntarily and privately in school. Students frequently gather in schools to pray. Yet, this freedom must be exercised so that it is not coercive or threatening to someone who does not want to pray. Thus, the manner in which prayer is conducted in school may not suit everyone. Yet, it is permitted and this amendment will not make it more permissible or prevalent.

If I were a public school administrator or teacher, I would be scratching my head right now. How do you develop a policy to determine whether a student can resist performing an assignment because it violates his or her religious beliefs? When is a student expressing religious beliefs orally or in writing and what does it mean to discriminate based on the content of the work?  When is prayer or expression of religious belief voluntary and private?  

I strongly suspect that there will be more litigation if this amendment is passed in August. In fact, this amendment has the potential to open the floodgates of litigation as it is put into application. Thus, what may sound like a good idea requires further examination. Be careful what you ask for.