As voters go their respective polling locations today, once receiving a ballot, found on it will be Amendment 2 – commonly known as the Missouri Public Prayer Amendment. The ballot language of the proposed amendment will read as follows:
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure:
That the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed;
That school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools; and
That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
Proponents of Amendment 2, such as the Missouri Family Network, argue that the proposal does not exist to create new rights, but to further define the rights already set in place by the United States Constitution.
"Anything further than the most remote expressions [of faith] are suppressed even though they are actually legal," said Kerry Messner of the Missouri Family Network. Messner is a registered lobbyist in Jefferson City.
"As we look across our State, it's clear that 95-99 percent of all violations of citizens' right to pray and free expressions of religion occur not because of evil intents, but because of the systemic ignorance of the general population," Messner said.
Questions surrounding possible future litigation are yet to be addressed by Amendment 2 proponents. What faith-based groups, specifically, did the Amendment's drafters have in mind? While Amendment 2 is openly backed by various Christian organizations, those organizations have made little mention of prayer and its relation to other faiths. The language is non-specific.
"It is broad language and it would allow a family that has an objection to some kind of instruction to have their child not participate in that. I don't think many parents, realistically, are going to do that. There is no obligation for a school to provide them with a separate curriculum. This would not be restricted to Christians by any means – the language of this would protect Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews – those of all faiths," said Mike Hoey, Executive Director of the Missouri Catholic Conference.
Focus on the Family, a national-recognized Evangelical group, has endorsed Amendment 2. Representatives were not immediately available for comment. Likewise, calls placed to the Christian Life Commission of the Missouri Baptist Convention, who have also endorsed the Amendment, were not returned. The Missouri Family Policy Council, additionally, has yet to respond to calls.
"We're asking our members to vote "no" on Amendment 2 because we think that the ballot summary is misleading. It doesn't give voters an accurate presentation of what's in the language of the amendment," said Diane Balogh, communications specialist with a St. Louis office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Calls to Columbia's Islamic Center of Central Missouri went unanswered. While the language of Amendment 2 appears to be all-inclusive, it makes no mention of the extent to which religious protections may find themselves in the months to come should the Amendment be passed. Would, for instance, Muslim students, or those of other faiths, be granted separate prayer facilities if sought or requested?
Page 2 of 2 - "This may broaden rights, but it will allow students to opt out of something they stand against for religious reasons. Because the amendment is poorly written, we see it as opening the door up to endless litigation," said Balogh.