The Catholic bishops rarely miss a chance these days to suggest that their religious freedom is under attack in the United States, which is why the Missouri hierarchy recently came out in support of the so-called “right to pray” amendment.
Amendment 2, which will be on the Missouri ballot Aug. 7, purports to protect religious freedom in the state. But religious freedom is already safe, thanks to solid safeguards in the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions. What this deeply flawed measure would actually do is disrupt the state’s public education system, invite coercive prayer and proselytizing into classrooms and create an unknown number of conflicts that would have to be sorted out through lengthy and expensive lawsuits.
Naturally the Missouri bishops ignored these facts. In a statement, they said, “Increasingly, it seems, religious values are becoming marginalized in our society. People of faith 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 bishops went on to say that “true religious freedom does not just constitute freedom to worship on Sunday,” and that real freedom includes “express[ing] one’s faith publicly through acts of mercy, and through prayerful witness to matters of importance to the common good of society as a whole.”
In fact, of course, there is no mass effort to marginalize religion in America, nor is anyone in this country restricted from praying or expressing one’s faith publicly – unless they’re trying to impose such practices by government action on an unwilling audience.
So what’s really going on? The bishops simply see Amendment 2 as yet another opportunity to promote their sectarian agenda and carve out exemptions from laws they don’t like under the guise of “religious expression.”
Fortunately, some clergy are speaking out in opposition to Amendment 2. In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch op-ed, the Rev. Jason W. Samuel of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Lake Saint Louis wrote that ballot measure 2 is unnecessary, unwarranted and constitutionally dubious.
“Here's the main reason I'm not supporting Amendment 2: It's fundamentally dishonest,” Samuel wrote. “It pretends to be something it's not. The amendment is portrayed as a way to ‘protect’ prayer and worship. In reality, it assaults common sense and erodes our shared value of support for religious freedom. The push for the amendment has been marked by oversimplification of complex issues and a failure to spell out the whole truth for the people of Missouri. Adding it to our constitution probably will turn out to be a costly mistake that would be difficult to rectify.”
Hopefully on Election Day, Samuel’s sage words will resonate with voters. (For more reasons to vote no on Amendment 2, click here.)