A constitutional amendment protecting Missouri residents’ right to pray in public passed by large margins in the Aug. 8 election.
Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, said the vote “repudiated religious intolerance.”
“You don't have to see bringing religion to the public square as a threat,” Hoey told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We see it as positive thing, and most Missourians did too.”
About 83% of voters, almost 780,000 people, favored the measure, while 17% were opposed.
Amendment 2 says that government will not impose religion on Missouri residents or force any citizen to participate in religious activity. It also secures the right of individual or corporate prayer in public or private so long as the prayer does not disturb the peace or disrupt public meetings.
It guarantees elected officials the right to pray on government premises and public property.
The amendment allows students to express their religious beliefs in schoolwork, to opt out of school requirements that conflict with those beliefs, and to exercise their beliefs in private, voluntary and non-disruptive ways.
The amendment also requires public schools to display the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights in “a conspicuous and legible manner.”
Republican state Rep. Mike McGhee had unsuccessfully sponsored the amendment for years until it passed the legislature in 2011.
Opponents of the measure include the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri and Southern Illinois and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
They said that the ballot language was misleading in its presentation for not mentioning its rights for students and elected officials.
Karen Aroestey of the regional Anti-Defamation League said the bill is “possibly unconstitutional in its application, so now we’re headed for the courts.”
Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said that the amendment will allow more taxpayer-funded lawsuits against school districts from individuals “on both sides of the church-state debate.”
Missouri’s Catholic bishops backed the amendment.
“True religious freedom does not just constitute freedom to worship on Sunday, but also includes the freedom to express one’s faith publicly,” they said Aug. 3.
They said the amendment comes at a time when religious values are “becoming marginalized,” and they noted that Catholic teaching supports believers’ right to give “their prayerful witness” to the common good of society.
Original July 24 story:
Missouri's four Catholic bishops have given their approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would ensure citizens the right to pray in both public and private settings.
“True religious freedom does not just constitute freedom to worship on Sunday, but also includes the freedom to express one’s faith publicly,” the bishops said in a recent statement about the amendment, which will go before voters on an Aug. 7 primary election ballot.
The bishops said the amendment was consistent with Catholic teaching, which supports the public right of believers to give their “prayerful witness to matters of importance to the common good of society as a whole.”
Amendment 2 states that the government will not impose religion on Missouri residents, either through an established state religion or by forcing any citizen to participate in religious activity. Within this framework, it would secure the right of citizens “to pray individually or corporately in a private or public setting, so long as such prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly.” It would also make clear that all Missouri citizens, including elected officials, “have the right to pray on government premises and public property, so long as such prayers abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar circumstances.” Students, likewise, would be guaranteed the right to express their religious beliefs in schoolwork, to opt out of requirements conflicting with those beliefs, and to exercise their religious beliefs in other private, voluntary and non-disruptive ways. The amendment would also require public schools to display the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution “in a conspicuous and legible manner” on their premises
According to the state's four bishops, the proposal comes at a time when “religious values are becoming marginalized in our society.”
Religious adherents, they said, “need assurance that they remain free to exercise and express their religious beliefs in public, provided just order be observed, without threat of external pressure to conform to changing societal 'norms.'”
The Missouri bishops, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City and Bishop James Johnston Jr. of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, cited the Vatican II declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae.
That document confirms a right to religious freedom, in the sense that all people “are to be immune from coercion … that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”
In light of that teaching, the Missouri bishops urged the faithful “to carefully review Amendment 2 and vote in favor of the amendment in August.”