Jefferson City, Mo., Aug 9, 2012 / 02:10 am (CNA).- A constitutional amendment protecting Missouri residents’ right to pray in public passed by large margins in the Aug. 8 election.
Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, said the vote “repudiated religious intolerance.”
“You don't have to see bringing religion to the public square as a threat,” Hoey told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “We see it as positive thing, and most Missourians did too.”
About 83 percent of voters, almost 780,000 people, favored the measure while 17 percent were opposed.
Amendment 2 says that government will not impose religion on Missouri residents or force any citizen to participate in religious activity. It also secures the right of individual or corporate prayer in public or private so long as the prayer does not disturb the peace or disrupt public meetings.
It guarantees elected officials the right to pray on government premises and public property.
The amendment allows students to express their religious beliefs in schoolwork, to opt out of school requirements that conflict with those beliefs, and to exercise their beliefs in private, voluntary and non-disruptive ways.
The amendment also requires public schools to display the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights in “a conspicuous and legible manner.”
Republican State Rep. Mike McGhee had unsuccessfully sponsored the amendment for years until it passed the legislature in 2011.
Opponents of the measure include the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri and Southern Illinois and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
They said that the ballot language was misleading in its presentation for not mentioning its rights for students and elected officials.
Karen Aroestey of the regional Anti-Defamation League said the bill is “possibly unconstitutional in its application, so now we’re headed for the courts.”
Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said that the amendment will allow more taxpayer-funded lawsuits against school districts from individuals “on both sides of the church-state debate.”
Missouri’s Catholic bishops backed the amendment.
“True religious freedom does not just constitute freedom to worship on Sunday, but also includes the freedom to express one’s faith publicly,” they said Aug. 3.
They said the amendment comes at a time when religious values are “becoming marginalized,” and noted that Catholic teaching supports believers’ right to give “their prayerful witness” to the common good of society.