ACLU Files Suit to Block Vote on Religious Liberty Amendment
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit seeking to block a statewide vote on the proposed religious liberty amendment to Missouri's Constitution. The ACLU has filed a legal challenge to the ballot summary for the religious freedom amendment which will be decided by Missouri voters next year. The religious liberty amendment clarifies the rights of Missouri citizens and schoolchildren to pray and acknowledge God in public settings and on public property.
The suit was filed by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, the ACLU Foundation of Kansas and Western Missouri, and the national ACLU Foundation. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Madeline Coburn, who is a United Methodist minister engaged in prison ministry, and Brenda Bredemeier, an associate professor in the Division of Teaching and Learning at the University of Missouri- St. Louis. Bredemeier served for many years as a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
The plaintiffs are asking a circuit court judge in Cole County to prohibit the Secretary of State from placing the issue on the 2012 ballot, or in the alternative, asking the judge to rewrite the ballot language to reflect their erroneous interpretation of the amendment.
The ACLU is clearly most concerned about a conscience provision in the constitutional amendment that states that "no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs."
Dr. Bredemeier asserts that this student conscience clause "would detract from educational quality by curtailing students' exposure to significant concepts and theories that are integral to related domains of study and underlie important public discourse." What Dr. Bredemeier is really saying is that the state (not parents or students) should be making the decisions about what values and "concepts" students should embrace and accept.
The ACLU argues that the student conscience clause would "compromise the education of students who opt out of assignments by depriving them of the opportunity to learn about cultures and concepts that they may personally disagree with, but are necessary to know as part of a comprehensive, quality education." What the ACLU really means to say is that the student conscience clause will curb the behavior of educators who seek to indoctrinate students in belief systems that contradict their religious faith.
The lawsuit also alleges that the religious liberty amendment will repeal religious freedom rights for prisoners in state and local custody. This is a nonsensical claim. The constitutional amendment states that none of its language expands the rights of prisoners beyond those afforded by the laws of the United States. The amendment does nothing to restrict the current religious freedoms of inmates, but does not expand them beyond those enunciated in federal law and federal court decisions. The language was requested by the Missouri Department of Corrections.
The plaintiffs contend that the ballot summary is "insufficient and unfair." As to its supposed "insufficiency," the ballot summary is limited to 50 words under the law. The language chosen by the Legislature speaks to the major overarching provisions of the constitutional amendment. As to its supposed "unfairness," the ballot summary reflects bipartisan input over the course of four legislative sessions, and is an eminently fair, straightforward, and non-prejudicial description of the key components of the amendment.
The religious liberty amendment, House Joint Resolution 2, has been strongly promoted by the Missouri Family Policy Council, and we drafted many of its provisions. HJR 2, sponsored by Representative Mike McGhee of Odessa, was approved by the Missouri House by a vote of 126-30, and by the Missouri Senate by a vote of 34-0. It will appear on next year's November general election ballot, unless the Governor chooses to place it on the August primary ballot. A simple majority of Missouri voters is required for passage.
The central provision of the religious freedom amendment is a constitutional guarantee that students have the right to pray and express their religious beliefs on a voluntary basis in the public schools. That right cannot be exercised in disruptive fashion, and does not extend beyond the parameters placed on any other free speech under similar circumstances.
The amendment also assures adult citizens and elected officials the right to pray and acknowledge God on public property and government premises. The proposal further protects the right of government bodies to invite ministers and clergypersons to offer invocations before government meetings and proceedings. The amendment also requires that a copy of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution be posted in a conspicuous and legible fashion in every public school in the state.
The ballot summary approved by the General Assembly reads as follows:
"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 shall have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools;
That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution."
We will have more to report on this issue in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please be praying that the Cole County Circuit Court Judge dismisses this frivolous lawsuit, which is poorly prepared and legally baseless. This is a long-shot legal ploy by the ACLU that is unlikely to succeed, but is only the beginning of their effort to confuse Missouri voters about the true purpose of the religious liberty amendment.
You can read the text of the religious liberty constitutional amendment by using this link:
House Joint Resolution 2