JEFFERSON CITY • Missourians will vote Aug. 7 on a proposed constitutional amendment affirming the right to pray in public places.
Gov. Jay Nixon announced today that he had placed the measure on the August ballot rather than the Nov. 6 general election ballot "because the provisions of the amendment would be effective immediately if approved by voters."
Nixon's spokesman, Scott Holste, declined further comment on the timing of the ballot question or whether Nixon supports it.
The measure is likely to draw social conservatives to the polls. 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.
The Legislature approved the proposal in the 2011 legislative session. The measure passed the House on a vote of 126-30 and the Senate on a unanimous 34-0 vote.
The sponsor, Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, said he championed the change because of a fear that government would use the separation of church and state as a reason to keep people from privately praying on public property.
Critics said at the time that the right to pray in public is already protected by the U.S. Constitution and that the Missouri Constitution says citizens have the "right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience."
Senate Democrats said they decided not to oppose the amendment because it didn't do anything.
If approved by voters, the amendment (HJR2) will prohibit government or school officials from adopting policies to prevent prayer in public places, as long as the prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly.
It also says students can express their religious beliefs in assignments, free from discrimination, and cannot be compelled to participate in assignments that violate their religious beliefs.