| Prayer Amendment Wins Passage by Massive Margin |
Missouri voters sent a blockbuster message in support of religious liberty by giving overwhelming support to Amendment 2 on Tuesday's primary election ballot. The religious liberty constitutional amendment passed by a stunning margin of 83-17 percent. Known as the Missouri Prayer Amendment, the proposition passed with staggering majorities in every county in the state, including the major metro areas of St. Louis and Kansas City.
Missouri now has the strongest state constitutional provisions protecting the free exercise of religion of any state in the nation. Missouri voters declared in no uncertain terms that religious freedom is a paramount fundamental constitutional right, and they want to see that it is respected and accommodated in the public square.
Amendment 2 spells out in more specific terms the nature and scope of the religious liberties guaranteed to Missouri citizens and schoolchildren. The language of the amendment reflects prevailing case law established by the federal courts governing the Free Exercise clause and Establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
The Missouri Prayer Amendment clarifies that schoolchildren have the right to pray on a voluntary basis in the public schools, and that students have the right to express their belief in God in their school work and classroom discussions.
Amendment 2 also specifies that Missouri citizens have the constitutional right to pray and acknowledge God in public settings and on public property. The amendment further states that elected officials have the right to pray and acknowledge God in public proceedings and public ceremonies, including the right to invite ministers to offer invocations before their government meetings. The ACLU is currently in federal court in Missouri seeking to stop county officials from Franklin County from praying before their meetings.
Missouri's new constitutional language doesn't change the fact that teachers still can not lead their students in organized prayer in the classroom, and that prayers cannot be offered over the loudspeaker at a football game or during a formal graduation ceremony. What the new language does reinforce is that private religious expression by students in the school setting is permissible.
Free exercise of religion means that students can pray over their lunch in the cafeteria; students can read their Bibles during recess or study hall; students can pray together around the flagpole for See You at the Pole; students can share their faith with their fellow students; the captain of the football team can pray with his teammates before a game; and students can discuss their religious values during a valedictory address.
A key provision in Amendment 2 is a conscience clause for students and their parents. It states that no student can be compelled to participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate their religious beliefs. Critics dubbed it the "freedom from learning" clause. The Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and their allies worked to conjure up all kinds of outlandish scenarios that would be unsupported by this constitutional provision.
The genesis for the student conscience clause was the famed Emily Brooker case in Missouri. Brooker was a social work student at then-Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. She was required as a condition for completion of a course of study to write a letter to legislators advocating for the legalization of adoption by homosexual "couples." When she refused to comply because of her religious beliefs, she was dragged before a faculty panel that conducted a hostile and abusive inquisition regarding her religious convictions.
Under the new constitutional provision, parents and students will be able to opt out of school programs and activities that attack the core of their religious beliefs. Examples would be explicit sex education for elementary-age children, and the drumbeat of homosexual indoctrination in certain public schools. Students and parents would have to demonstrate that their objections flow from sincerely held religious beliefs.
Secular forces campaigning against Amendment 2 were highly inconsistent in their messaging strategy. They argued repeatedly that the constitutional amendment was redundant and unnecessary, yet at the same time claimed it would produce adverse and alarming results.
The landslide victory for Amendment 2 made clear that Missouri voters didn't buy either argument.
The comprehensive support Amendment 2 received demonstrates clearly that support for the free exercise of religious speech and religious values spans the political spectrum and every demographic. That fact was driven home by Senator Claire McCaskill's declaration hours before the polls closed that she had voted for Amendment 2.
The Missouri Prayer Amendment was placed on the ballot by the Missouri General Assembly, who passed House Joint Resolution 2 during the 2011 legislative session. We are grateful to the many members of the General Assembly who voted to submit this issue to the voters. We want to especially single out the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike McGhee of Odessa, for his courageous leadership on this issue. We want to also acknowledge Senator Jack Goodman of Mount Vernon, who played a crucial role in steering this measure to passage in the Missouri Senate.
The Missouri Family Policy Council was pleased to play a leading role in developing and advancing the Missouri Prayer Amendment. We salute the efforts of Kerry Messer of the Missouri Family Network in helping lay the foundation for this proposition over several years. We are most grateful for the support of churches and religious denominations throughout the state who actively and eagerly promoted Amendment 2, as well as other Christian and conservative organizations.
It is clear that those efforts were highly successful. 50,000 more votes were cast on Amendment 2 than were cast for all the candidates in the hotly contested U.S. Senate race. This despite the fact that the Senate race was at the top of the ballot and Amendment 2 was at the tail end.
Our goal all along has been to safeguard the natural right of the people of Missouri to thank God publicly for His blessings on our state and nation, and to protect our right to call upon Him together for His continuing wisdom and guidance in our lives. The voters of Missouri have said a big "AMEN" to those aspirations.