ACLU files lawsuit over Missouri prayer measure

Wednesday, August 8, 2012 | 7:06 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — An amendment to the Missouri Constitution on prayer and religious expression prompted a lawsuit Wednesday, just one day after it was approved by voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union alleges that a provision in the amendment that says the religious rights of prison inmates are limited to federal law violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom.

The Missouri Constitution provides more protections of religious liberty than the U.S. Constitution, so the state can't remove protections in a way that affects just one group, said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

Rothert said he couldn't cite an example of how the amendment would adversely affect inmates. He said that when judges have found that something violates an inmate's rights under the Missouri Constitution, they've found it violates their First Amendment rights, too.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two inmates against the head of Missouri's Department of Corrections. The department didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The new amendment is more widely known for specifically protecting public prayer and letting students avoid assignments that violate their religious beliefs. It also requires Missouri public schools to post the text of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The ballot summary didn't mention the provision addressing prisoners' religious rights. A legal challenge over the summary was rejected earlier this year.

"There will probably be many lawsuits," Rothert said. "This is just one very narrow challenge of one small part of this amendment. There are multiple ways that the amendment is susceptible to legal challenge."


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John Timmermann August 8, 2012 | 10:17 p.m.

Good for the ACLU. This is the first of many lawsuits. This amendment is bad law. It will be litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where it will be overturned. That is a good thing except it will cost the taxpayers of Missouri millions of dollars.

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