Efforts have been renewed in the Missouri Legislature to adopt a constitutional amendment protecting the religious liberties of Missouri citizens. Bills have been introduced
in both the Missouri House and Senate which are designed to assure freedom of religious expression in our state.
The Senate Committee on General Laws has heard early testimony on a joint resolution sponsored by Senator Delbert Scott of Lowry City. If approved by the General Assembly, it would require voter approval in a statewide election later this year.
A major thrust of the constitutional amendment is ensuring the rights of public school students to engage in voluntary prayer and to acknowledge God in the classroom and
other school activities. The language of the amendment states that students have the right to free exercise of religious expression "as long as such prayer, acknowledgement of God, or other expression is private and voluntary...and in a manner that is not disruptive..."
The joint resolution also protects the rights of students to express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work. It also declares that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate their religious beliefs.
This latter issue came to the fore in Missouri in recent years as a result of an incident at Missouri State University. A social work student named Emily Brooker was required to write a letter to legislators
supporting the rights of homosexuals to adopt children despite the fact that it contradicted her religious values. She was subjected to
intimidation by professors and school administrators and threatened with denial of further participation in her course of study.
The legislation also addresses the rights of citizens to peaceably assemble on public property and express their faith. The amendment spells out that "any person shall have the right to pray individually or corporately in a public setting so long as such prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly or impede public access." Citizens would be guaranteed the right to pray and acknowledge God on public property "so long as such prayers and other expressions abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar circumstances.
The joint resolution also would place into the Constitution language authorizing governments to have invocations before meetings of public bodies. Ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals would have
constitutional protection when they are invited to solemnize
public proceedings with invocations or other prayers.
In recent years, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have waged an all-out campaign to silence religious expression in the public square. Lawyers for these groups send intimidation letters to school boards saying that Bible clubs can't meet after school, that students and teachers can't talk about God in the classroom or at school events, and that students and teachers can't pray together. They send letters to city councils saying that ministers can't offer prayers before council meetings. They argue that National Day of Prayer ceremonies can't be held at county courthouses and in city parks.
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court has made it clear that governments cannot engage in viewpoint
by discriminating against religious speech, many officials who receive these letters back down to these interest groups because of fear of lawsuits and protracted legal fees. This constitutional amendment is intended to provide clarification and legal backing for public officials to defend and protect the religious liberties of Missouri citizens and schoolchildren. It further calls for the text of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution to be posted in all public schools outlining our First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
Representative Mike McGhee
of Odessa has introduced an identical proposed constitutional
amendment in the Missouri House. Representative McGhee has won
passage of similar joint resolutions in the last two sessions with overwhelming bipartisan support. He has been a true champion of religious freedom during his years in the General Assembly. The Missouri House has passed some form of prayer amendment in the last four legislative sessions.
The challenge has been obtaining priority attention to this legislation in the Missouri Senate. Last year was the first time the issue was debated on the floor of the Senate, and the bill ran into a determined filibuster from liberal senators who are allies of the ACLU. It is hoped that this year the Senate will give serious consideration to this measure.
We encourage you to be praying consistently for this issue to gain momentum this session. Atheist organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation are intensifying their campaigns to remove all references to God from the public square and from public debate. The people of Missouri deserve the opportunity to vote to preserve their God-given right to pray to Our Heavenly Father and ask for his guidance and His Grace. A nation that repudiates God, and decrees that He is not welcome in public life, is a nation that is repudiating his blessings.