Missouri voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment that supporters said will protect religious freedom.
The measure — Amendment 2 — says Missourians’ right to express religious beliefs can’t be infringed. It protects voluntary prayer in schools and requires public schools to display a copy of the Bill of Rights.
With all but two precincts statewide counted, 779,628 voted yes on the measure and 162,404 voted no, roughly a 5-1 margin.
Many supporters referred to the measure as the “Right to Pray” amendment.
Missouri voters believe “religious liberty is pretty important to them and a high priority,” said Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network, as the votes were counted. “The public feels like the Supreme Court took this away from them over 50 years ago” with a ruling against mandatory school prayer.
Alex Luchenitser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington D.C.-based group opposing the amendment, said he was disappointed but not surprised at the vote.
“This amendment promotes unconstitutional conduct,” he said. “It’s going to result in a whole lot of litigation.”Any immediate impact of the amendment, which takes effect in 30 days, is still unclear.
The new amendment broadly expands the protections in the state’s constitution by adding new sections on religious issues.
In addition to protecting voluntary prayer in school, the amendment:
• Ensures the right to pray individually or in groups in private or public places, as long as the prayer does not disturb the peace or disrupt a meeting
• Prohibits the state from coercing religious activity.
• Protects the right to pray on government property.
• Protects the right of legislative bodies to sponsor prayers and invocations.
• Says students need not take part in assignments or presentations that violate their religious beliefs.
That last provision may soon become the subject of litigation, some critics warned. They said it could lead to students skipping science classes or assignments when they disagree with teaching about the origins of man.
Supporters said those fears are overblown.