Missouri's 'Right to Pray' amendment is challenged by ACLU


The Kansas City Star

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday challenging an amendment to the state's constitution it contends violates the religious rights of prison inmates.

On Tuesday, Missourians overwhelmingly approved the so-called "right to pray" amendment. The measure says the state can't infringe upon public expressions of religious beliefs, that students have the right to voluntarily pray in schools and that all public schools must display a copy of the Bill of Rights.

Not included in the summary that appeared on the ballot, however, was a provision stating the amendment "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."

Beginning with its first Constitution in 1820, Missouri has provided additional protections for religious liberty beyond federal law, the lawsuit contends. Over the years state courts have agreed.

The amendment approved by voters takes away an existing right from only one group — prisoners— "without a legitimate reason," the lawsuit says. That constitutes a violation of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom.

Missouri prisoners will be "chilled in their religious expression if deprived of the broader protection of religious liberty afforded by the Missouri Constitution because, without the further layer of security for religious liberty, they fear lesser protection of their rights," the lawsuit says.

It goes on to say that the prayer amendment "stigmatizes prisoners, a disfavored group, as innately inferior and, therefore, less worthy of the protection of the Missouri Constitution."

“Not only is it unconstitutional to take away the rights of one class of citizens, but it is an affront to our American values of religious liberty,” said Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two inmates against the director Missouri's Department of Corrections, George Lombardi. A spokesman for the department declined to comment on pending litigation.

Critics of the amendment, including the ACLU, warned that it would lead to a flood of lawsuits, particularly a section that said no student "shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs."

That provision was also left out of the ballot summary.

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • US weighing military exercises in Eastern Europe

    The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said Saturday. The exercises would follow Russia's buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine and its annexation last month of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

  • Mrs. Obama to appear on May episode of 'Nashville'

    Michelle Obama is going a little bit country.

  • Nebraska Democrats want GOP candidate to pull ad

    Nebraska Democrats are calling for a Republican candidate for governor to pull a televised campaign ad showing him knocking a Barack Obama doll off a fence post while criticizing the president's health care law.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category