May 2011 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A constitutional amendment dealing with prayer at public schools and other public places has passed the Missouri House of Representatives by a 131-31 vote. The Religious Freedom in Public Places Act was introduced by Rep. Mike McGhee (R-Odessa). It affirms the right of elected officials and others to pray on public premises and have clergy in attendance at public meetings. McGhee said he was motivated to sponsor HJR 2 because children have been told not to bring Bibles to school or wear crosses. Americans United opposed the measure, arguing that religious freedom is already protected under the First Amendment. In a letter to every member of the Missouri Senate’s General Laws Committee, AU outlined its objections, noting that this is just a way for Religious Right groups to achieve government-imposed religion. “All Missourians,” the letter states, “should oppose playing politics with religious liberty – one of our most precious freedoms. In order to win political points, the proponents of this resolution risk harming religious freedom. Not only would the proposed amendment change fundamental guarantees in the state Constitution, but it also favors some religious faiths over others.” Versions of this amendment have surfaced previously in Missouri. AU activists in the state have defeated the proposal before, but with changes in the legislature, it’s uncertain whether the legislation will succeed in the Senate this year.