Editorial

Right to pray

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A ballot initiative to appear on August's ballot aims to preserve the U.S. Constitutional right to pray in public places.

It reads:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure:

n That the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed;

n That school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools; and

n That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.

It is estimated this proposal will result in little or no costs or savings for state and local governmental entities.

The fair ballot language reads:

* A "yes" vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to provide that neither the state nor political subdivisions shall establish any official religion. The amendment further provides that a citizen's right to express their religious beliefs regardless of their religion shall not be infringed and that the right to worship includes prayer in private or public settings, on government premises, on public property, and in all public schools. The amendment also requires public schools to display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.

* A "no" vote will not change the current constitutional provisions protecting freedom of religion.

The initiative could be looked at a number of ways. It could be looked at as exactly what it says it is, an initiative to protect public prayer and giving further shielding of such expressions against lawsuits. In Southeast Missouri, several government bodies have public prayers before meetings; prayers are offered before special events such as public school graduations and other gatherings of students at schools. Such expressions have been challenged across the country in recent years by activists who believe separation of church and state should prevail.

Some have speculated that this ballot initiative was put to voters for political reasons in attempt to get more conservative voters to the polls in November. The Democratic governor thought it was important enough to move up to August.

While some say the Missouri amendment can protect rights, others say it could actually lead to more problems, such as disruptions, because the amendment does not define what constitutes a religious belief. And some say the amendment is just not necessary because it only reaffirms liberties already established.

It's fairly safe to say that this ballot initiative wasn't necessary. We generally favor the initiative because our religious freedoms are a cornerstone to this country. An affirmative vote is a signal to our leaders that this freedom is worth preserving.

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