Missouri Passes Unnecessary ‘Right to Pray’ Amendment

To continue the discussion on separation of church and state, Missourians have passed Amendment 2, which gives civilians the right to pray in public and requires schools to display the Bill of Rights. Among those provisions, the amendment also calls for the following (emphasis mine):

• 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.

The Constitution of the United States already protects citizens’ rights concerning the first two provisions. However, the third and fourth provisions will undoubtedly prove to be challenging. The second provision, as I see it, contradicts the third and fourth. Depending on how they are interpreted, I have no trouble believing that legislators will use this amendment against any citizen who challenges prayer before government-sponsored events. (The fifth provision could be used as a get-out-of-science-class-free card.)

Opponents are already gearing up to overturn the amendment:

“This was misleading in its presentation and possibly unconstitutional in its application, so now we’re headed for the courts,” said Karen Aroesty of the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri and Southern Illinois. “We’ll let the next branch of the democratic process do its part, and I suspect a case will be on file pretty soon.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the full language of the amendment was left off the ballot, which may have changed the way some Missourians voted.

Presentation of religious beliefs in public are already protected by the federal Constitution. This legislation is unnecessary and was a waste of Missouri voters’ time. I can’t help but suspect that this amendment was drafted as a way to promote Judeo-Christian ideals in Missouri, and those who attempt to use this amendment to protect other religious beliefs will not be well-received.

About melanie

Melanie was raised a Methodist Midwestern girl who somehow ended up in Pennsylvania as an atheist Democrat. She studied Professional Writing with a minor in Sociology at York College of Pennsylvania, graduating in 2010. She lives for sushi, 90s one-hit-wonders, and celebrity gossip.

  • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

    Says students need not take part in assignments or presentations that violate their religious beliefs.

    This is the part that particularly bothers me, as it could very likely disrupt the educational process.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=623552696 Mary Cummins

       Me too.  Technically, it could be used by a Christian student to refuse to complete any assignments given by female teachers, considering the Bible’s ban on women teaching males.

    • Conspirator

      To me this part is really insidious, and I’m pretty sure it was left off the ballot.  Time for students to object to the whole “round earth” theory and see what happens then.  

    • ReadsInTrees

       I also want to know why religious students are the only ones who get special privileges to get out of assignments. I mean, I loved reading but hated writing book reports…what if I wanted to get out of doing book reports because it was against my personal philosophy?

  • LesterBallard

    Matthew 6:5 
    And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    Matthew 6:6 But you, when you pray, enter into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.

    • 3lemenope

      Tell you the truth, I haven’t met a whole lot of Christians who like that passage. That’s *always* bothered me.

      • LesterBallard

        And I would be surprised if the ones who did like it were like the ones who voted for this law.

        • debbiedoesreality

          If by that you mean willfully ignorant puppets, then I agree.
          “Vote Yes, because your religious/Christian (because in the minds of these types “religion” tends to mean only Christianity) beliefs are going to be annihilated if you don’t.” — “I voted Yes on that prayer thing on the ballot, Christianity is saved! Praise Baby Jesus! Let’s all go have a Chick-fil-A sandwich to celebrate.”
          I wish I could live long enough to see this mentality evolve away, but it’s so deeply ingrained that it’s going to take a very long time. I am glad I have lived long enough to see the beginnings of its demise, and hope that for the remainder of my life, it keeps advancing swiftly in that direction. The huge majority that ticked Yes on this amendment causes me to wonder though, how many of these type set-backs we’ll have to deal with.
          I do think that the last hangers-on to an out-dated, irrational position tend to get very loud and even very ugly/dangerous. It is rather an exciting time to be alive I think.

          • LesterBallard

            “Let’s all go have a Chick-fil-A sandwich to celebrate.”

            Like they’ll stop at one.

      • Gunstargreen

        It’s amazing how they can cling to one passage in the old testament that they hold up to condemn gays in a book that condemns a lot of other things they probably do regularly. But they can easily ignore stuff like this from their gospels when it doesn’t suit them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000755430729 Larry Johnstone

      Jesus himself prayed in Public many times.

      Those verse are about do not pray in public for show as the Pharisees did.
      People who do not believe the Bible should never try and teach a book they know nothing about.

      • LesterBallard

        That’s rich. I’ll remember that the next time some ignoramus spouts off about evolution, or any other part of science. And I love those fucking centrifuges. Keep ‘em spinning.

  • Stev84

    The idea that students can simply opt out of anything if they pretend it “violates” their beliefs is also absurd is certainly going to lead to conflict.

    • machintelligence
    • debbiedoesreality

      I imagine that this mess will keep plenty of lawyers in business for quite some time, either way it goes.

    • Gringa

       The smart students can opt out if the teachers try to push creationism… though I’d rather they stick around for the debate.

  • Conspirator

    One thing that I’m sure will crop up in the fight to overturn this amendment is that the poor persecuted Christians will say “But you’re trying to stifle our freedom!”.  Right-wing politicians will trumpet this as a case of persecution by the godless left, and of course our pathetic journalists will never mention how unnecessary this amendment was in the first place when covering the right-wing response to any attack on this amendment because to add any context to the report will not be seen as being fair and balanced.   

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    They seem to be more concerned with protecting the freedom of religious expression.  But not so much with the right to not.  Can an atheist student voice a declaration that Jesus is a Zombie?  I can’t think of a case that might exist, but could a student refuse an assignment due to lack of religious belief?

  • Randomfactor

    “(The fifth provision could be used as a get-out-of-science-class-free card.)”

    Unless they also want to advance to a new grade or graduate, I don’t have a problem with that.  Some 17-year-old third graders might object, though.

    • Phil Bellerive

      That or they can do the alternative assignment of the “biological hazards of scrubbing the bathrooms.”

  • Tainda

    Yesterday I tried to tell anyone that would listen to vote no on this amendment.  Most of them thought I was crazy, “people should be allowed to pray whenever/wherever they want”  I would tell them they already can but it did no good.  I did my part by voting against it but I was one of the unfortunate 17% :(  I hate this state

    • Baby_Raptor

      It’s kinda weird how conveniently the Right remembers/forgets what rights they have. They tend to just claim reality mirrors their need for the current conversation.

      For a group that claims to love the Constitution so much, it’s sickening how little they care to really know about it. 

      • Kodie

        Whatever happened to this thing they all wanted called “small government?” And what does happen if you vote “no” and “no” wins? Does this mean the rights they already have suddenly go into question again? How come when someone proposes an amendment or referendum, there isn’t someone who knows the law to tell them and show them where it is already allowed? Dear legislator, I want to change it so green lights mean “go”; legislator replies “what grade did you complete and in what school system?” Just think of all the Christians who pray in school whenever they want and simultaneously think it’s against the law. In my yearbook, there’s a candid of a guy and his bible, which he carried everywhere. He signed mine because we were friends, and I never saw him proselytizing.

    • tdd68

       I hate this state, too.  I knew, from how many “Vote Yes” signs that I saw on my way to work, that there was overwhelming support for this unnecessary garbage.  I didn’t even bother trying to argue with people, though. I guess I’m just tired.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Christians forcing their beliefs on others? And stroking their egos? And lying about what they’re doing?

    So much surprise! Cannot take! 

  • Collin Boots

    I think provision 3 is just fine.  Praying on government property of your own accord (i.e. private prayer in schools) is just fine and already protected.

    Provisions 4 and 5 are the problem.

  • Lee Miller

    I’m waiting for a muslim student to be valedictorian of his or her high school class and pray to Allah during the graduation ceremony . . . “there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet!”  I’m also thinking about appearing before our city council as a believer in the great god Woo-Woo and insisting on my right to lead a Woo-Woo prayer before the council meeting.

  • Robyman4

    Why is the amendment unnecessary? Oh, I remember: because of Matthew 6:6. You know, a verse from one of those four pesky gospels, divinely inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ the Son of God and savior of mankind. It tells believers “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” But of course, most Christians don’t have the slightest damn clue about this passage…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000755430729 Larry Johnstone

      Why do people like you try and teach a book you evidently know very little about.

      Jesus prayed in Public many times.
      That verse is about not doing it for public show as the Pharisees did it

      • Robyman4

        It’s quite funny that you think I “evidently know very little about” a book I’ve read cover to cover, had preached to me countless times in the home and in church for over 20 years and studied in a number of college classes. Unless you’re a seminary student or priest/minister/pastor, I’d bet money I know the contents of that book better than you do. But in order to give you the benefit of the doubt and put things into context, let’s look carefully at what comes immediately before the single verse I quoted in my previous post. Matthew chapter 6, verses 1-5. The first thing I see is “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” Now, do you think for one second that this amendment in Missouri is designed for anything besides the enhanced favoritism of Christianity – the dominant religion in the United States even before its inception as a sovereign nation? Do you truly believe for even a moment that it encourages anything other than the public display of peoples’ faith – so that they expressly make their beliefs known to those around them, so that others can see and hear them praying? Either you’re very naive, or I’m guilty of being extremely cynical – but how else could I turn out after being dragged to church for two decades and going to a religious university? Verse 2 mentions the praying “hypocrites in the synagogues and in the streets.” Then verse 5 – according to the Bible I own, the New Revised Standard Version – says “whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites.” Verse 6 begins with the same phrase: “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father…” So the focus here is on the word “whenever,” which was used twice and does not mean sometimes, occasionally or every now and then. It means always, every time, no exceptions. So where’s the flaw in my logic? Or do I have a poor excuse for a Bible? Perhaps you have a text that’s holier than mine and uses better words to tell us what Jesus REALLY said or meant? And as for Jesus praying in public, although it would of course be hypocritical for him to do that and then say “don’t pray in public,” it stands to reason that he could do whatever he pleased since he was God made flesh. But again, since the Bible sitting in front of me says the instructions of Jesus were  “whenever you pray” on two occasions, if I were to accept his teachings as divine, timeless and incontrovertible truths, I’d better toe the line, right?

        • Rwlawoffice

          For someone who has studied the bible as you say you have you should know how to properly interpret a verse. You are correct when you say that the context is important. Here the verses about prayer that atheists like to interpret as you have is a faulty interpretation because of two errors- one, taking it out of context and two, bias (interpreting it like you want o instead of hat it means). Here this verse is in a list of instructions Jesus is giving about not being showy, appearing pious to get approval from men instead of doing what you do in order to please God. Prayer is in a list of examples that includes giving offerings, fasting, helping the poor and praying with a lot of words. The message is not that all prayers are to be in private as you would want because then it is easy to try to use the bible to support your claim that Christians hold not pray in public, but the message is that when you do these things do it with the goal to please God not man. We know this as well because this teaching is consistent with other portions of the bible regarding prayer.

          • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

            This is a pretty tenuous exegesis. It reminds me of a time when I heard someone argue that Jesus’ admonition to the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor wasn’t actually condemning wealth but rather the love of wealth, so it would be okay if you owned a boat as long as you didn’t idolize the possession. Yeah, no, the meaning is fairly clear.

            Here, you’re suggesting that public prayer is only problematic when it’s done as a display of piety to impress others, but you can’t get that from the verse: that’s eisegesis, not exegesis. The verse is pretty clearly saying that public prayer is problematic because it is public (as public giving is also meant to be secret a few verses before) – or at very least it is saying that private prayer is what is truly “rewarded” (vs. 6). Yet this is frequently ignored in probably the majority of churches, as it certainly was in all of the churches I grew up in (and there were more than a few of those, since my father was a preacher). So Robyman4 is correct in that assessment.

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

             bias (interpreting it like you want o instead of hat it means

            But if one scholar says it really means X and another says it really means Y…  Heck, you your self have said that the bible doesn’t really mean slavery when it says “If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master.”

            I’d love to know what this “what the bible really means” brand of kool-aid is, because it sure seems like the bible always happens to mean what you really want it to mean.

          • Robyman4

            I’m sorry for leaning on my own understanding when it comes to examining Bible verses. I should, without exception, doubt my comprehension of the contents of the Bible and simply accept things according to your understanding, is that it? How interesting it is that you acknowledge my nod to context and then turn right around and tell me I failed to grasp the context of the verses in question. I also wonder how it is that I am biased while you are not. The reality of the situation is that I did not adduce my interpretation in order to support any personal agenda that prohibits Christians from praying in public. That’s because I’m neither offended nor threatened by such an act in any way. I laugh it off because it’s perfectly clear to me than it’s a useless practice and that the words float up to an empty sky. I can provide myriad examples to back that up. Let me put it another way: since I rarely walk around with the desire to see people embarrassed in the midst of others, my only hope is that Christians don’t make colossal fools of themselves and merit public ridicule by assembling in courts/schools/city halls, etc. and asking in earnest for things that won’t be granted and will not happen. Though if that is indeed how things play out, it will at least hasten the demise of such a preposterous set of beliefs as more and more individuals eventually come to understand said futility and accept the value of reason and critical thought. But to get back on the subject, just to get things arrow straight, the word “whenever” actually does not mean in all circumstances, correct? That is merely what I want it to mean, right? Please elucidate the definition of the word, since I obviously do not possess the acumen to do so.

  • debbiedoesreality

    As a Missourian I am irked. I am not surprised, I expected the amendment to easily pass. However I was a little off-put at just how overwhelmingly it did pass. I feel a bit more uneasy, embarrassed, and disgusted today than I did yesterday.
    The whole thing was redundant and just a waste of time and money, and that it even got on to the ballot cements my notion of just how stupid and thoughtless people really are.
    It has also set up a situation that will just be even more costly and cause more discontent. I can only hope through the process that a few of the Yes voters get a little more educated… though I don’t have a lot of expectation for that to happen.
    At least some lawyers will have a good opportunity to make some extra money.

  • Helanna

    Between this and the Louisiana article earlier . . .

    Dammit America, this is why everyone laughs at us. 

  • Jc43

    All of a sudden I find that this proposal to allow voluntary prayer in public allows a student to refuse to listen to presentations of Natural Selection and Evolution… I am appalled that the “Election powers” would fail to include this portion of the proposal in the ballot wording..   I believe that a  student should have the right to pray in a public place, but also believe that same student should be exposed to scientific theory and common knowledge from the world around them.

  • The Other Weirdo

    And then, of course, there is this page discussing Matthew 6:5-6.

  • t0ast

    Damn right the text was intentionally misleading.  This is all they could be bothered to put on the ballot:

    “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.”No mention of opting out of assignments.  No mention of allowing clergy-led prayers at General Assembly meetings.I did my part by voting “no” and encouraging everyone I could to follow suit, but when the atmosphere is such that you’re still set to get steamrolled 5-1 … just … #$%*@#


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