The language of the resolution is broad, and repeatedly references "Almighty God" in a bill that's supposed to be about all religious beliefs, but that's par for course.
Several civil rights and secular activist organizations are claiming (a) the bill is pointless because everything that's in it is already in the First Amendment, and (b) that the overly broad language is intended to open the door to deliberate or inadvertent misinterpretations that will lead to proselytizing to captive audiences in schools and council meetings, and is basically another step to cross the separation of church and state.
Now, I wouldn't be surprised a single bit if this were actually the case. Missouri is the state that banned lap dancing and nudity in strip clubs. However, I've read the bill and I'm lacking the law expertise to actually know if this is the case - beyond the offensive paeans to "Almighty God" that are certainly thinly veiled references to the Christian God - I can't find much in this bill that is as blatant as the activists claim. Is this really as much of a danger to the church-state divide as they think - or rather, even more of a danger than just being in an increasingly religious conservative state would be?
Here's the bill:
http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bi ... R0002T.PDF
Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring therein:
That at the next general election to be held in the state of Missouri, on Tuesday next
2 following the first Monday in November, 2012, or at a special election to be called by the
3 governor for that purpose, there is hereby submitted to the qualified voters of this state, for
4 adoption or rejection, the following amendment to article I of the Constitution of the state of
Section A. Section 5, article I, Constitution of Missouri, is repealed and one new section
2 adopted in lieu thereof, to be known as section 5, to read as follows:
Section 5. That all men and women have a natural and indefeasible right to worship
2 Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no human authority can
3 control or interfere with the rights of conscience; that no person shall, on account of his or her
4 religious persuasion or belief, be rendered ineligible to any public office or trust or profit in this
5 state, be disqualified from testifying or serving as a juror, or be molested in his or her person
6 or estate; that to secure a citizen's right to acknowledge Almighty God according to the
7 dictates of his or her own conscience, neither the state nor any of its political subdivisions
8 shall establish any official religion, nor shall a citizen's right to pray or express his or her
9 religious beliefs be infringed; that the state shall not coerce any person to participate in any
10 prayer or other religious activity, but shall ensure that any person shall have the right to
11 pray individually or corporately in a private or public setting so long as such prayer does
12 not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly; that
13 citizens as well as elected officials and employees of the state of Missouri and its political
14 subdivisions shall have the right to pray on government premises and public property so
15 long as such prayers abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech
16 under similar circumstances; that the General Assembly and the governing bodies of
17 political subdivisions may extend to ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals the
18 privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General
19 Assembly or governing bodies; that students may express their beliefs about religion in
20 written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of
21 their work; that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic
22 assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs; that the
23 state shall ensure public school students their right to free exercise of religious expression
24 without interference, as long as such prayer or other expression is private and voluntary,
25 whether individually or corporately, and in a manner that is not disruptive and as long as
26 such prayers or expressions abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free
27 speech under similar circumstances; and, to emphasize the right to free exercise of religious
28 expression, that all free public schools receiving state appropriations shall display, in a
29 conspicuous and legible manner, the text of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the
30 United States; but this section shall not be construed to expand the rights of prisoners in state
31 or local custody beyond those afforded by the laws of the United States, excuse acts of
32 licentiousness, nor to justify practices inconsistent with the good order, peace or safety of the
33 state, or with the rights of others.
Section B. Pursuant to Chapter 116, RSMo, and other applicable constitutional
2 provisions and laws of this state allowing the General Assembly to adopt ballot language for the
3 submission of a joint resolution to the voters of this state, the official ballot title of the
4 amendment proposed in Section A shall be as follows:
5 "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure:
6 • That the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be
8 • That school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in
9 their schools; and
10 • That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United States
Here's an article from Secular News Daily with most of the claims:
http://www.secularnewsdaily.com/2011/07 ... s-liberty/
Not only has the state’s legislature passed a measure that could open the door to government-promoted religion – it plans to deliberately mislead Missourians about it.
H.J.R. 2 will appear on the November 2012 ballot. It’s an amendment that will add language to the state’s constitution codifying the right of Missourians to express their religious beliefs in public places, including public schools.
Obviously, that is something that all Americans already have the general right to do under the U.S. Constitution. Most Missourians will likely approve the language, thinking it’s no big deal.
That’s what the state legislature and the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Mike McGee (R-Odessa), want everyone to think. But that would be wrong.
The amendment’s language is very broad, and it seems intended to open the door to preaching and proselytizing in public schools and other venues with a captive audience. It mandates, for example, that “citizens as well as elected officials and employees of the state of Missouri and its political subdivisions shall have the right to pray on government premises and public property.” Does that mean teachers and school administrators will have the “right” to lead their students in worship?
The amendment says “students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work.” Does that mean students can stand up in class and give a “report” that proselytizes for their faith and demeans the beliefs of others?
Another section mandates that “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” Does that mean students can opt out of science class because learning about evolution “violates” their religious beliefs?
Yet none of these details are spelled out in the proposed ballot measure. All Missourians will read is that the amendment promises more religious liberty.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last week challenging the misleading language. Hopefully, the litigation will result in the state at least describing the true effect of this amendment so Missourians will know what they are signing up for.
Americans United has already warned about the dangers of this amendment and urged Missouri legislators not to approve it.
In March, we wrote a letter to the Missouri Senate making it clear that, if approved, this measure will likely lead to more constitutional violations and lawsuits.
“This amendment would substantially change the state’s existing guarantee of religious liberty,” the letter asserted. “Because courts are obligated to give every word meaning when interpreting the Constitution, they will likely view the additional lengthy exposition of what the free exercise means as granting different rights than those currently guaranteed by the Constitution — and rights that even go beyond the stated intent of the resolution.”
This measure isn’t about religious freedom but is rather just another way for our legislators to cross the church-state line.