Missouri House lawmakers discuss right-to-pray initiative

Thursday, July 12, 2012 | 10:11 p.m. CDT; updated 11:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMBIA — Two state lawmakers met Thursday night to present arguments in favor and in opposition of a ballot initiative that would not allow the state to prohibit an individual's right to pray.

Missouri Reps. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, discussed the initiative at a primary election forum Thursday night.

The constitutional amendment

The right-to-pray ballot initiative will be put before voters on the Aug. 7 ballot. It asks voters whether the Missouri Constitution "shall be amended to ensure:

  • That the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed;
  • That school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools; and
  • That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United State Constitution."

The ballot initiative was passed by the General Assembly in 2011. It was sponsored by Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa.

The debate

While Bahr said that the initiative would only ensure the First Amendment rights and "secure more clearly the freedoms" of Missouri citizens, Kelly said it was an unnecessary measure because it wouldn't change anything in the law.

"This would be solving a problem that doesn't exist," Kelly said. "You shouldn't create laws that don't do anything."

Kelly also said Missouri residents should be wary of the "law of unintended consequence."

Kelly said the law could allow a student to escape coursework by arguing it was against their religion. He added the law could bring "lots of good lawsuits" against the state.

Bahr countered by saying the law would "simply specify that [the right to pray] is a religious freedom so that a court cannot say otherwise."

The new language specifies that groups conducting prayer in public could not cause a disturbance.

The forum

Hosted by the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan political organization, the debate was part of a forum that included two question-and-answer sessions for candidates in the contested 44th Republican primary and the contested 47th Democratic primary.

Dennis Smith, Chris Dwyer, Mike Becker and Caleb Rowden are candidates in the 44th Republican primary, the winner of which will face off with Democrat Ken Jacob. John Wright and Nancy Copenhaver are both running in the 47th Democratic primary. Whoever wins that race will compete against Republican Mitch Richards for the state House seat.

Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.

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Mark Foecking July 13, 2012 | 5:07 a.m.

I would imagine a whole lot of praying goes on, undetected, in public schools regarding things like tests, homework, sports, if-I-ask-will-she-go-out-with-me?, etc, and no one seems to get in trouble for it.

Why is the legislature wasting time fixing problems that don't exist? Has anyone been denied the chance for, or been punished for, voluntary prayer in a public school?


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