COLUMBIA, Mo. — Voters in Missouri overwhelmingly approved a “right to pray” amendment to the state’s constitution on Tuesday (Aug. 7), despite concerns about the measure’s necessity and legality.
Amendment 2, which supporters said would protect the freedom of religious expression in public schools and other public spaces, received nearly 80 percent of the vote.
The language on Tuesday’s ballot stressed the rights of citizens to express their religious beliefs and the rights of children to pray and acknowledge God in schools. It also stated that students could be exempted from classroom activities that violate their religious beliefs.
State Rep. Mike McGhee, a Republican who sponsored the amendment, said it would remind people about their religious freedoms, such as reading religious books at school. “It’s OK to bring your Bible to study hall,” he said.
It is not clear how students’ exemption from classroom activities will be regulated. McGhee has said it could vary by age group, but individual school districts will likely create their own policies on the matter.
The amendment was backed by Missouri’s four Catholic bishops and the Missouri Baptist Convention. The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and several non-Christian groups opposed it. Legal experts almost unanimously predict that the amendment will wind up in court.
Critics also argued the amendment is redundant — the U.S. Constitution already protects religious freedom. And some warned that it would spark countless lawsuits and bring unintended consequences.
“It opens up a can of worms most people don’t want to open,” said Greg Grenke, a 22-year-old voter from Columbia who voted against the amendment. He said he’s not against prayer — he just doesn’t think the amendment was necessary.
Pediatrician Ellen Thomas, 48, said the amendment seemed like propaganda.
“I really just think it’s designed to stir up angry sentiment.” She added, “There’s no infringement on people’s right to pray as it is.”
Kathy Rowland, 55, of Columbia, Mo., said the amendment seemed “well-intentioned,” but unnecessary.
Still, the amendment garnered enough support to pass by a 7-1 margin.
“I was glad to see it,” said Margie Cravens, 87, as she left her Columbia polling place. “And we need prayer now more than ever before.”
Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill voted “yes” on the amendment.
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