Missouri voters will get a chance this summer to affirm their right to pray in public places if an Aug. 7 ballot on an amendment to the state constitution goes off as planned.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon set the referendum for the primary election date in August rather than place it on the ballot in the November general election so it could take effect immediately.
But the Post-Dispatch also suggested that the governor might have a second, more politically motivated reason for moving the referendum as early as possible — to keep social conservatives from turning out in big numbers in the fall.
“The measure is likely to draw social conservatives to the polls,” the newspaper reported. “So from a political standpoint, it stands to reason that Nixon, a Democrat, would want to get it out of the way in August, when parties are choosing their nominees, rather than in the general election pitting Democrats against Republicans.”
Republican state Rep. Mike McGhee said he sponsored the “Right to Pray” amendment — which was passed by the legislature last year — because of fears the government would use separation of church and state arguments to keep people from praying in private while on public property.
Critics, though, say the right to pray is already protected by the Missouri and U.S. constitutions.
If approved by voters, the amendment would prohibit government or school officials from preventing prayer in public places if it doesn’t disturb the peace or disrupt public meetings.
But it also protects students who share their religious beliefs in school assignments from discrimination and prohibits them from being forced to complete assignments that violate those beliefs.
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