Our Opinion: Politics and the right to pray

The “right to pray” amendment on the August ballot is not unlike a renewal of wedding vows — the sentiment is nice, but the legal effect is negligible.

What may prove more than inconsequential is the political effect.

Gov. Jay Nixon has placed the proposed change to the Missouri Constitution on the Aug. 7 primary ballot.

The proposal reflects a joint resolution approved by the state Senate in a unanimous, 34-0 vote after the House sanctioned it with a vote of 126-30. All opponents were Democrats.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...”

And Article 1, Section 5, of the Missouri Constitution grants “a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; ...”

Although that might seem to cover it, lawmakers have decided to more specific language is imperative.

The ballot language will ask voters to amend the state constitution to ensure:

• That the right of Missouri residents 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 States Constitution.”

Our focus here is not the amendment’s merits or liabilities.

A drawback to more specific language is it creates fodder for legal challenges; an asset is the amendment secures a role for prayer at public meetings and in school settings.

As a practical matter, the resolution marks a political coup for Republicans — an advantage somewhat diminished when the Democratic governor placed it on the August primary ballot, rather than the November general election.

Nevertheless, candidates for re-election, primarily Republicans, will be able to tout their defense of a right to pray.

And, more importantly, the issue will help attract conservative voters to the polls.

Even prayer, at times, has political overtones.

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