Missouri House Backs Proposed Religious Freedom Amendment
Legislation designed to safeguard the religious liberties of Missouri citizens and schoolchildren has received overwhelming approval from the Missouri House of Representatives. House Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by Representative Mike McGhee of Odessa, would amend Missouri's Constitution to clarify the rights of Missourians to pray and acknowledge God in both public and private settings. The proposed constitutional amendment was endorsed by the Missouri House by a vote of 126-30.
"We are trying to make clear in the supreme law of our state that our religious freedoms are those intended by our Founding Fathers," says Representative McGhee. "Too many of our citizens are denied the right to express their faith because they are told God doesn't have a place in school or in public life. It's time for us to take a stand on behalf of our freedom to express our
religious values in the public square. "
"Our Founding Fathers believed that prayer and religious expression was a good thing for our country," McGhee continued. "They realized that we would fail as a nation if we tried to solve our problems on our own. There are so many problems in our country right now that need fixing. There's one surefire way to tackle those problems. Prayer is the best solution to the challenges we face."
A central thrust of McGhee's house joint resolution is a provision stating that public school students have the right to pray and acknowledge God in the school setting as long as such religious expression is private and voluntary. Students would also be assured of the right to express their religious beliefs in written and oral assignments in school. No student could be forced to participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate their religious beliefs.
Legal interest groups who are opponents of religious liberty have mounted a concerted campaign over the last several years to eradicate any expression of faith in the nation's public schools. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation threaten to file lawsuits against school districts if they fail to squelch any and all acknowledgements of God in and out of the classroom.
The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that school administrators and classroom teachers cannot lead students in "state-sponsored prayer." Yet they also cannot engage in "viewpoint discrimination" by infringing on voluntary student speech with religious content. Nonetheless, the ACLU and its allies supply school officials with a false legal interpretation of the "separation of church and state" doctrine insisting that all religious expression must be suppressed. School officials typically buckle under the threat of an expensive lawsuit and yield to ACLU-type demands.
There is one school district in Rhode Island who has just decided to stand up to the legal bullying tactics of the ACLU. The school board in the Cranston School District has voted to continue to display a prayer banner in the auditorium of Cranston High School West. The banner hangs across from the school creed, and includes a prayer developed by the Student Council in the early 60's.
The school banner reads as follows: "Our Heavenly Father. Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically; to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers; to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West. Amen."
The ACLU sent the school a demand letter threatening to file suit if the banner is not removed. The school board voted 4-3 to keep it up. Parents and community leaders are raising money for a legal defense fund to finance any future litigation from the local ACLU chapter.
Yet not all school districts have demonstrated the same courage and resolve as the folks in Rhode Island. In fact, some have been downright hostile to religious values. In Denver, a student named Erica Corder was the valedictorian at Lewis-Palmer High School's graduation ceremony. In her valedictory address, Corder thanked those who had an impact on her life, including "my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." The school board refused to award Erica her diploma until she issued a public apology for her remarks.
Teachers have also chosen to silence the religious expression of their students. A teacher at Lynn Lucas Middle School in Houston, Texas, confronted two sisters who brought their Bibles to school. She informed the girls that Bibles weren't allowed in school, declared that they were "garbage," and tossed them in a dumpster. Yet another teacher at the same school accosted students who had their books covered with Ten Commandments book covers. She removed the covers from the books and tossed them in the trash, stating that they amounted to "hate speech."
Students aren't the only ones who have been victims of religious discrimination in the school setting. A few years ago, a school superintendent in Humansville, Missouri, was fired by the school board on the advice of school district attorneys. Greg Thompson was dismissed because he refused to remove his Bible from his desk in his private office, refused to take a cross off the wall in his private office, and refused to take a plaque of the Ten Commandments off the shelf in his private office.
Public opinion surveys show that the vast majority of Americans believe that students in public schools should have more discretion to express their faith. A recent poll conducted by The First Amendment Center found that 75% believed students should be able to speak about their faith at public events, and 80% thought student speakers should be allowed to offer a prayer during public school events. Even those respondents who said they don't practice any religion agreed with those sentiments.
Representative McGhee's proposed constitutional amendment also addresses the freedoms of all citizens to pray and acknowledge God in other public settings. It recognizes the right of citizens and public officials to pray and acknowledge God on government premises and public property. It guarantees the right of governing bodies such as the Missouri Legislature and city councils to invite clergypersons to offer invocations.
We recently reported that the State Senate in Hawaii suspended its historic practice of offering prayers each day before the legislative session, as is the practice in almost every legislative body. They did so under the threat of a lawsuit from the ACLU. In another recent case, a state court judge in New Jersey decreed that the city council in Point Pleasant Beach could not have any kind of prayer whatsoever before its council meetings. The judge ruled that prayer is "contrary to the role of secular government."
Opponents of religious liberty have spared nothing in their efforts to establish atheism as the official state religion in the United States. They have gone to court to remove "In God We Trust" from our currency and from its status as our national motto. They have sought to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Last year they succeeded in persuading a federal judge in Wisconsin to declare the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.
The legislation sponsored by Representative McGhee has now been passed by the Missouri House for four straight years. (The prayer in schools portion of the amendment has been endorsed by the House six straight years.) The bill now moves to the Senate, where it has died for the last three years due to a filibuster or threat of filibuster from legislative allies of the ACLU.
We encourage you to contact your state senator to urge their support of the religious freedom amendment. Senator Jack Goodman of Mt. Vernon has introduced Senate Joint Resolution 16, which is identical to Representative McGhee's legislation. You can contact your State Senator by using this link:
Here is how your State Representative voted on House Joint Resolution 2:
Representatives voting in favor of HJR 2:
Allen, Asbury, Aull, Bahr, Barnes, Bernskoetter, Berry, Black, Brandom, Brattin, Brown (Michael), Brown (Cloria), Brown (Wanda), Burlison, Casey, Cauthorn, Cierpiot, Conway (Kathie), Conway (Pat), Cookson, Cox, Crawford, Cross, Curtman, Davis, Denison, Dieckhaus, Diehl, Dugger, Elmer, Entlicher, Fallert, Fisher, Fitzwater, Flanigan, Fraker, Franklin, Franz, Frederick, Fuhr, Funderburk, Gatschenberger, Gosen, Grisamore, Guernsey, Haefner, Hampton, Harris, Higdon, Hinson, Hodges, Holsman, Hoskins, Hough, Houghton, Hummel, Johnson, Jones (Tim), Jones (Caleb), Kander, Keeney, Kelley (Mike), Klippenstein, Koenig, Korman, Kratky, Lair, Lampe, Lant, Largent, Lasater, Lauer, Leach, Leara, Lichtenegger, Loehner, Long, Marshall, McCaherty, McGeoghegan, McManus, McNary, Molendorp, Nance, Nasheed, Neth, Parkinson, Phillips, Pollock, Quinn, Redmon, Reiboldt, Richardson, Riddle, Rizzo, Rowland, Ruzicka, Sater, Schad, Scharnhorst, Schatz, Schieber, Schieffer, Schneider, Schoeller, Shively, Shumake, Sifton, Silvey, Smith (Jason), Solon, Stream, Swearingen, Swinger, Thomson, Tilley, Torpey, Wallingford, Webber, Wells, Weter, White, Wieland, Wright, Wyatt, and Zerr
Representatives voting against HJR 2:
Anders, Atkins, Carlson, Carter, Colona, Ellinger, Hubbard, Hughes, Jones (Tishaura), Kelly, Kirkton, May, McCann Beatty, McDonald, McNeil, Montecillo, Newman, Nichols, Oxford, Pace, Peters-Baker, Pierson, Schupp, Smith (Clem), Spreng, Still, Talboy, Taylor, Walton Gray, Webb
Absent with Leave:
Day, Faith, McGhee*, Meadows, Nolte, Zimmerman
*Representative McGhee was attending a funeral back in his district