July/August 2011 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Voters in Missouri will decide next year whether to pass a constitutional amendment promoting prayer and other religious activity at public schools and other public property. In May, the State Senate approved HJR 2 on by a unanimous 34-0 vote. The House had approved the measure 126-30 in March.The so-called Religious Freedom in Public Places Act is a sweeping measure that guarantees the right 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 also ensures that “students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work” and “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” Students are also given the right “to free exercise of religious expression without interference, as long as such prayer or other expression is private and voluntary, whether individually or corporately, and in a manner that is not disruptive.”The bill’s sponsor, Mike McGhee (R-Odessa), has proposed the same legislation for the past five years because he claimed to have heard reports from around the state of students being stopped from praying at public schools. He offered no verifiable evidence of this happening. Americans United opposes the amendment because Americans already have broad religious liberty protections and the new language will invite church-state separation violations. The amendment will appear on the November 2012 Missouri ballot.