It didn’t take long for the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the “right to pray” amendment which voters overwhelmingly approved Tuesday.
Less than 24 hours after Missouri voters approved the state constitutional amendment (Amendment 2) the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit to strike it down.
The ACLU alleges that a provision in the amendment that limits the religious rights of prison inmates to existing federal law is unconstitutional because it treats them differently than others.
The action is expected to be the first of many legal challenges to the amendment which was approved by almost 83 percent of the voters casting ballots. It is set to take effect in September. The challenges are expected to go on for years.
The new amendment adds additional protections for religious freedom to the Missouri Constitution. It protects voluntary prayer in schools and allows students to avoid assignments that violate their religious beliefs. It also requires public schools to display a copy of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
In addition to protecting voluntary prayer in school, the amendment guarantees the right to pray in public places including on government property so long as the prayer does not disturb the peace. It also sanctions the right of legislative bodies to sponsor prayers and invocations.
Some of these “new” protections are really reaffirmations of existing federal law. But they are of particular interest to Franklin County officials who are embroiled in their own lawsuit with the ACLU which is challenging the constitutionality of the way it has led and sponsored prayers before commission meetings.
Specifically, the ACLU contends that the prayers are not sectarian in nature because they have had the effect of promoting or endorsing Christianity over other religions.
In response to those concerns, the commission enacted a new prayer policy for its meetings that allows members of the public to offer a prayer before each meeting. The first prayer under the new policy was offered this week and included references to Christianity.
Don’t be surprised if the commission’s new prayer policy serves as the basis for another lawsuit by the ACLU challenging the provisions of Amendment 2. The county unwittingly has become the test case for the constitutionality of prayer before public meetings.
Some may cheer this fact but it certainly is a distraction, costly, to running county government.