Religious Liberty Amendment Sent to Statewide Ballot
Advocates for religious freedom won a long-sought victory during the recent legislative session when the Missouri General Assembly endorsed a proposed religious liberty constitutional amendment. If approved by Missouri voters, the amendment would strengthen the language in Missouri's Constitution protecting the religious free exercise rights of Missouri citizens and schoolchildren.
The proposal, House Joint Resolution 2, had been approved by the Missouri House earlier in the session by a vote of 126-30. This was the fourth straight year that the House had adopted the religious liberty bill, sponsored by Representative Mike McGhee of Odessa. As the clock was winding down on the legislative session, "the prayer amendment," as it is often described, was facing once again an anticipated filibuster in the Senate from Senator Jolie Justus of Kansas City.
However, in an amazing turn of events, Senator Justus abandoned her threatened filibuster. When Senator Jack Goodman of Mt. Vernon, the Senate handler of the proposal, brought the bill up for debate, Senator Justus not only voiced no objection to the bill, she stunned observers by voting for the joint resolution. The measure was approved unanimously by the Senate by a vote of 34-0.
The religious liberty amendment now goes before Missouri voters in a statewide election next year. The proposal will appear on the November 2012 general election ballot, unless Governor Jay Nixon decides to place the measure on the August primary election ballot instead.
Under the religious liberty proposal, students would be assured the right to pray and acknowledge God on a voluntary basis in public schools so long as their religious expression is not disruptive and conforms to the parameters placed on any other free speech in similar circumstances. Students would also be guaranteed the right to share their religious beliefs in written or oral school assignments free from any recrimination based on the religious content of their work.
The proposed constitutional amendment also includes a major conscience clause for students and parents when it comes to school curriculums. Students could not be forced to perform academic assignments or participate in educational presentations that violate their religious beliefs.
The religious freedom measure also declares that a citizen's right to pray and acknowledge God shall not be infringed in other settings. Citizens would be guaranteed the freedom to pray individually or corporately in public settings and on public property so long as the activity does not disturb the peace or disrupt a public meeting or assembly.
Government officials and employees would be assured the right to pray on government premises provided that those public prayers abide within the same parameters placed on other speech in the same circumstances. The joint resolution also stipulates that the Missouri Legislature and all local government bodies in the state may allow ministers and clergypersons to offer invocations at their meetings and public
While the proposed constitutional amendment would not and cannot override federal court interpretations of the First Amendment to the Constitution, it spells out in clear language the nature of prevailing federal court decisions on matters of controversy in the realm of religious expression. The new language would also prevent state court judges from interpreting our state constitution in a manner hostile to religious freedom.
Should the language of the joint resolution be enshrined in Missouri's Constitution, it would provide school administrators and government officials with essential religious liberty guidelines when groups such as the ACLU threaten litigation in efforts to suppress the expression of religious values. Senator Goodman correctly pointed out that our constitutional rights are of little value if they cannot be exercised without fear of intimidation and repudiation.
The religious freedom amendment had its genesis five years ago when former Representative Carl Bearden first sponsored a joint resolution dealing with voluntary prayer in schools. During the 2008 legislative session, the proposal was expanded to become a broad-based religious liberty amendment with additional language drafted by the Missouri Family Policy Council. We are thrilled to see this proposition now in the hands of Missouri voters.
Representative Mike McGhee deserves tremendous accolades for his perseverance in promoting the "prayer amendment" these last four sessions. Representative McGhee is one of the most kind-hearted and benevolent members of the General Assembly, and the success of this measure is reflective of his good will and gentlemanly leadership. We urge you to send a note to Representative McGhee thanking him for his valiant leadership on this issue at firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Goodman deserves supreme commendation for his masterful efforts to finally navigate this proposal past the philosophical and procedural obstacles that have left it shipwrecked for five straight sessions. Senator Goodman is universally regarded in the Senate as a man of extraordinary conscience, character, and class. The unanimous support he obtained from the Senate for the religious liberty amendment is a testimony to the deep respect he commands from his colleagues. Please send a note to Senator Goodman thanking him for his impressive efforts at email@example.com
Lastly but most importantly, we thank God for this momentous victory for the Christian community in Missouri and for all people of faith. The manner in which this proposal was finally achieved can only be explained by God's intervening Hand. We thank Him for his mercies on our state.
The preamble to Missouri's Constitution reads as follows: "We, the people of Missouri, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness, do establish this constitution for the better government of our state." Our goal here at the Missouri Family Policy Council is to see that those sentiments are not just platitudes in a preamble, but that they are reflected in a meaningful way in the constitutional protections afforded the citizens of our state.
The right to pray and acknowledge "the Supreme Ruler of the Universe" is not a right granted by government, but a right conferred by our Creator. It is the foremost job of government to safeguard that right. The proposed religious liberty amendment guarantees that Missourians will be be able to proclaim our gratitude for God's goodness in the public square. The citizens of the Show-Me State will now have the opportunity to show the nation next year who truly governs in the hearts of our people.