On Aug. 7 Missourians will vote on Amendment 2, which supporters claim will expand citizens' rights to the free exercise of religion. While increasing religious liberty protections is a laudable goal, Amendment 2 is deeply flawed.
The measure's official summary lists three intentions: 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." Contrary to Amendment 2's implications, the first two are already constitutionally required and the third is constitutionally permitted. Furthermore, while this is the description that will appear on the ballot, the amendment's full text would add nearly 400 words of new, untested language to the state constitution.
Private citizens (including students) generally have a right to engage in public religious expression to the same extent that nonreligious expression is permitted. Likewise, individuals' right to pray voluntarily is staunchly protected from undue government interference.
Government officials, such as elected representatives and public school employees, should never use their government positions to advance religion. Limitations on government-sponsored prayer are a key component of "no establishment" and protect individual freedom of conscience by ensuring all citizens may freely participate in the democratic process without regard to one's religious beliefs.
Amendment 2 threatens to blur the lines that separate church and state and protect religious liberty.
J. BRENT WALKER, executive director, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Washington, D.C.