School prayer ballot issue divides Missourians
Thu, 02 Aug 2012 18:30:35 GMT —
Missouri voters will make a decision on Tuesday regarding the State's involvement in religious freedoms.
House Joint Resolution No. 2 lays out the specifics for freedoms allowed to Missourians when it comes to the practice of religion.
If passed, the resolution would be added as an amendment to the Missouri Constitution.
Many of the freedoms granted within the resolution simply reaffirm what is already granted in federal and state law. Visit this website for the exact wording of the resolution.
The resolution would repeal section 5 of article I of the Constitution of Missouri and adopt the new one in its place.
Three rights named are new, and two of those three are causing controversy.
The first rights gives students the freedom to opt out of course work that disagrees with their religious beliefs.
Critics believe this could cause classes, specifically science classes, to suffer.
Local officials disagree.
"I don't anticipate that, not in this area. I think we live in a pretty conservative area and I don't anticipate many problems," Palmyra Superintendent Eric Churchwell said.
The ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri tried unsuccessfully to keep the amendment off the ballot. It is concerned that the language is unclear.
"I think the exemption applies to both public and private schools because in the language of the resolution it refers separately to public schools and then to schools in general. Ordinarily in interpreting a constitution or a statute the court would find that that statute is significant," Doug Bonney said. Bonney is the Chief Counsel and Legal Director for that branch of the ACLU.
A local state representative who co-sponsored the resolution disagrees, "I don't think that there are problems with private or parochial schools with that anyways because they're there by choice, they pay the tuition and they know what the curriculum is," Missouri Rep. Lindell Shumake said.
The second issue causing controversy relates to religious rights for prisoners. The amendment states, "this section shall not be construed to expand the rights of prisoners in state or local custody beyond those afforded by the laws of the United States."
Bonney believes that this statement will limit the state from extending the religious rights of prisoners because it will expressly state that prisoners only have the rights that the United States law affords them and will not be entitled to any more freedoms. Missouri has not yet expanded prisoner rights beyond federal rights, but bordering Kansas has done so.
However Rep. Shumake does not believe the statement poses and problem. After working for years in prison ministry his opinion is, "They're to make reasonable accommodations to the federal law and reasonable accommodations that wouldn't violate their goal of security inside the prison."
The final new issue, which has not raised concerns, states that schools must publicly display the United States Bill of Rights.
The state legislature approved putting the issue to a public vote. This amendment will be on the Missouri Primary ballot as Proposition 2.
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