Voters have spoken. Don't mess with prayer, they say.
In an overwhelming vote, Cooper County primary participants in favor of Amendment 2 drowned out those opposed in a margin that saw 86 percent vote to support an implementation of further-defined prayer rights in public schools. Statewide tallies saw only three percent fewer vote in favor of the measure.
"What I want to emphasize for those who misinterpreted this and believe that organized prayer will be put back in schools – is that prayer over loudspeakers at football games or other expressions of faith that are openly endorsed by a school are still not permissible under federal guidelines," said Joe Ortwerth, Executive Director of the Missouri Family Policy Council.
The MoFPC openly backed the Amendment's passage. The group identifies themselves as a "non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting Biblical principles in our government and Judeo-Christian values in our culture that support and encourage strong healthy families."
Responding to questions of potential litigation that critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union have leveled previously, Orwerth observed that the ACLU filed suit after passage only on the wording that addressed prisoners rights.
"I think it's notable that they didn't file suit against the rest of the measure," he said.
Critics of Amendment 2, though far outnumbered, cite the Amendment's opt-out allowance as a gateway to unending litigation.
"Were a family to oppose a curriculum that teaches Darwin's theory of natural selection, they could legally argue that their religious principles are being violated in the classroom," said Diane Balogh, communications specialist with the American Civil Liberties Union in St. Louis.
MoFPC does not deny that courts may become involved, but they do feel that critic-reactions are exaggerated.
"On the opt-out for students – this is not entirely a new issue, and you've seen that with some of the responses from administrators. For a student to exercise this option they'll have to demonstrate that the action they are asked to take part in is an attack on their core religious values – and that those values are sincerely held. Students that try to make claims from something they can't clearly demonstrate – they'll shake out over time," said Ortwerth.
Ortwerth identified the genesis of the Prayer Amendment's language as a case involving an Emily Booker of Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University). Booker, a student, was required by course instruction to write a letter to state officials arguing in favor of homosexual adoption. Booker insisted, before a school-board, that she should not be compelled to take part in the activity, arguing that same-sex adoption violated her religious foundations. Booker's claims were later validated officially.
"A student that's going to say 'I don't want to be exposed to ideas that are different than my own will probably not prevail on this kind of claim. I think those who think students can opt out of biology courses only because of natural selection will find it to not be quite as simple as that. If a student is required to state evolutionary theory as incontrovertible fact – that would be a rights-violation," Ortwerth said.
Likewise, the Missouri Baptist Convention identifies a fear of legal challenges as unfounded.
"The intention of Amendment 2 was to restore Constitutional clarity to our First Amendment freedom of religious expression. This is a freedom given to people of all faiths, and I would hope that no person would ever be denied the right to pray and worship publicly. The amendment does not open the door to so-called special accommodations; it simply protects the basic rights given to all Americans. Amendment 2 mentions schools and public buildings because those are the primary venues where the courts have eroded our Constitutional freedoms," said Executive Director, Dr. John Yeats.
Yeats was referring not only to opt-out potential, but to the issue of accommodating faiths other than the United State's mainstay – Christianity. Would other faiths, for instance, request separate prayer facilities and could such pursuits be legally feasible under the guidelines of the Amendment?
"I'm very pleased with the outcome of the vote on Amendment 2 and feel the people of Missouri have spoken convincingly that they desire Constitutional clarity concerning First Amendment rights that the courts have eroded over the years. Going forward, my hope is that people of all faiths will have the freedom to pray and worship in public. The amendment simply reaffirms what the First Amendment guarantees in regard to freedom of religious expression," Yeats said.