Wednesday, 08 August 2012 22:00

"Right to Pray" Amendment Wins Overwhelming Vote in Missouri

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Missouri voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a "Right to Pray" amendment to the state's Constitution, which will almost surely be challenged in federal court. Amendment 2, approved by a vote of roughly 5 to 1, includes a provision that guarantees students the right to take part in prayer in public schools on a voluntary basis. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Engel v. Vitale, in 1962, and subsequent rulings that  a school-sanctioned prayer recitation, even if participation is voluntary, is unconstitutional. Justice Hugo Black, in writing the opinion of the Court in Engel, said: "Neither the fact that the prayer may be denominationally neutral nor the fact that its observance on the part of the students is voluntary can serve to free it from the limitations of the Establishment Clause."

Missouri voters believe "religious liberty is pretty important to them and a high priority," Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network, told the Kansas City Star. "The public feels like the Supreme Court took this away from them over 50 years ago."

Alex Luchenitser of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State insists the Supreme Court got it right. "This amendment promotes unconstitutional conduct," Luchinitser told the Star. "It's going to result in a whole lot of litigation."

The amendment, to take effect in 30 days, also protects: the right to pray on public property; the right of individuals and groups to pray in public places, so long as they do not disturb the peace or disrupt a meeting; and the right of legislative bodies to sponsor prayers and invocations. It prohibits the state from coercing religious activity and allows students to refuse to take part in assignments and presentations that violate their religious beliefs. And while Supreme Court rulings have forbidden displays of the 10 Commandments in schools, courthouses, and other public buildings, Amendment 2 requires schools to display a copy of the Bill of Rights. Article I of the Bill of Rights begins: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

At the time the original Constitution was adopted in 1787 and the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, an establishment of religion was generally understood to mean a tax-supported church, whose members enjoyed rights and privileges — including the right to vote or hold office — denied to non-members. Prayers as part of state-sponsored public ceremonies were not an issue. Since some states still had established churches at the time the Bill of Rights was proposed, the prohibition applied only to the federal government and its legislative body: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." (Emphasis added.) Since the nation had no established religion, Congress was forbidden to establish one. But the amendment also prohibited Congress from passing any laws affecting established religions in states where they then existed. The matter was left up to the states and the people thereof, in accordance with the constitutional principle spelled out in the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by this Constitution, nor denied by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."       

But the Supreme Court, in a number of rulings based on the "due process" and "privileges and immunities" clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, has incrementally applied the prohibitions of federal action in the Bill of Rights against state and local governments as well — so that by the end of the 20th century, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion" had come to mean that federal courts would decide whether a prayer at a school assembly or football game, a Christmas concert in  a public school or a crèche in a public park may or may not be permitted under the establishment clause.      
 
Critics have argued that the provision in the "right to Pray" amendment allowing students to be exempt from class assignments and presentations that violate their religious beliefs could encourage students to invoke the right when they want to skip science classes dealing with the origins of human life. No doubt the people of Missouri will have many thorny issues to resolve in implementing Amendment 2. Or they would were it not for the likelihood that the theoretically self-governing people of that state will be prevented from doing so by an edict from a federal court.

5 comments

  • Comment Link Eddie Sunday, 12 August 2012 02:22 posted by Eddie

    These people have no idea what the establishment clause does. It allows both freedom OF and FROM religion -- which is a good thing. There has never been any prohibition against students getting together on their own -- without a teacher or school administrator -- and voluntarily praying. So the students have freedom OF religion. Prohibiting school personnel from involvement protects students FROM religion -- so no non-believer has to be ostracized or bullied for non-participation. The problem with too many believers in the wrath-filled, vengeful creator-god with the anger management problem -- depicted by most clerics of the Abrahamic religions [Judaism, Christianity, and Islam] -- is that they want to cram their belief systems down the throats of everyone else -- in the name of god!!!

  • Comment Link Gordon Freeman Friday, 10 August 2012 11:43 posted by Gordon Freeman

    *The Labor Party is Keynsian and not socialist

  • Comment Link Gordon Freeman Friday, 10 August 2012 11:42 posted by Gordon Freeman

    Well, in Norway we have many socialists, but we have extremely many social conservatives as well. Even though 70% believe in God, only about 5% or less attend church on regular basis (not counting funerals/baptism/weddings), but prayer in school is allowed and even bringing lunch from home is allowed. Really you americans are more socialist than norway, we even have strong private property rights.

    Socialism is in decline in norway, the socialist left party only have about 4% of the electorate compared to 20% 20 years ago.

    The far right party in Norway has around 22% (declining some), the Conservative party has around 18% (rising), but the Labor party which is not Keynsian but not socialist has around 38%(slowly declining). its also important to note that the labor party of Norway was 100% anti communist in the postwar era, which lead the socialist wing of the party to break out and form the "socialist left party" which is drowning in corruption today.

    And the communist party doesnt even have any seats ;)

    So the USA is in regression to ruinous socialism while Scandinavia is progressing towards free market with a blend of wellfare :)

  • Comment Link REMant Thursday, 09 August 2012 15:26 posted by REMant

    Public schools are state-supported, not state institutions, and that has always been the case, but I think the distinction would be lost on the SCOTUS, which will undoubtedly strike it down on a deficient reading of both the 1st and 14th Amendments. It is an interesting point tho.

  • Comment Link Michael Minich Thursday, 09 August 2012 08:35 posted by Michael Minich

    I was wondering, when do the schools become 'state' schools?, thus under the new interpretations that they are government schools? Obviously the 14th has been used to make congress to mean any governmental body of a state, aka: a poorly written amendment, and a huge venue for judicial activism. This is also in the wake, the re-interpretation of the 1st amendment to instead promote secular [athiestic] faith among the people, thus a complete violation the intent of the 1st.

    It seems to me, that a free people should step away from the narrow definition of government and move to private; thus the schools would be out from the umbrella of state regulation, especially where states have allowed private schools to exist.
    Unlike in England, we still have the freedom to be separate from the state. But how far does the state or government arm extend to enforce the freedom from religion? And when does a group of people come under state mandated authority to promote the recently defined state religion?

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