By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS — The Missouri constitution already guarantees residents the right to express their religious beliefs, so a proposed amendment could be troublesome, opponents of the measure say.
It could be costly, too.
In addition to congressional and statewide races, Show Me State residents Tuesday will cast votes on Amendment 2, the so-called “right to pray” ballot measure.
The new provision, critics say, could lead to legal challenges.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said Missouri has “arguably the strongest religious protection constitutional section in America.” He said the amendment only makes the law “complex and convoluted.”
“The opportunity for unintended consequences is huge, and none of the proponents can give you any problem that it fixes,” Kelly said.
One of Kelly’s biggest concerns is a provision in the amendment that “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.”
Students, he says, could refuse some school work because of it.
“When I was at St. Francis High School, I can ensure you I had a religious objection to physics,” Kelly quipped.
George Connor, head of the Missouri State University political science department, said the measure seems mostly to recodify the state’s existing protection of religious freedom. The addition of the schoolwork issue could “open up a can of worms.”
“I think that’s where the law is ripe for legal challenges,” he said.
Connor said he’s unaware of any lawsuits based on the religious freedoms written into the state constitution, which allow for public expressions of faith.
“You can pray at the flagpole,” he said. “You can have Fellowship of Christian Athletes.”
The measure is expected to pass easily. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll found that more than 80 percent intend to mark “yes.”
Passing the amendment will “result in little or no costs or savings for state and local governmental entities,” says the slightly misleading boilerplate from the state auditor’s office, which determines the cost of any ballot measure.
The report from Auditor Thomas Schweich shows no instances in which the amendment is expected to save agencies money, but it shouldn’t cost them much, either.
The amendment, for example, would require public schools to display the Bill of Rights.
Officials from Cape Giradeau’s school district told auditors the measure would probably cost them about $200 – or $16.67 to buy and ship each Bill of Rights poster.
Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, tried multiple times to persuade the Missouri General Assembly to pass the legislation before getting it through in 2011.
He told the Post-Dispatch the measure would send the message that “it’s OK to read a Bible in study hall” or “to pray briefly before a city council meeting.”