Missouri Court Allows ‘Disingenuous’ Ballot Summary

The ballot summary for a proposed religion amendment on the November ballot in Missouri has been upheld by a state court.

If adopted, the Religious Freedom in Public Places Amendment would allow for a wide variety of religious activities, including prayer and proselytizing in public schools and other public buildings. The ballot summary came under fire because it makes no mention of the potential for students to refuse homework on religious grounds or for prisoners to lose some religious protections.

State and national affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the ballot language on behalf of a United Methodist minister and a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“The people of Missouri have a right to know exactly what they’re voting for,” said Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “The disingenuous way this amendment is described on the ballot is clearly meant to persuade the voters to approve it without knowing what it really says.”

Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief, said, “Both the Missouri and federal Constitutions already protect the fundamental right of religious expression. What voters may not realize when approving this amendment is that it would actually strip away some existing rights.”

Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce disagreed with the ACLU, holding in Coburn and Bredemeier v. Mayer that the summary fairly describes the amendment’s impact.

The measure was approved by the Missouri legislature in 2011 and would become law if approved by a simple majority.