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The ACLU is challenging Missouri's new "right to pray" constitutional amendment, arguing that it runs afoul of the U.S Constitution by providing more protections to ordinary citizens than it does to prisoners.
The referendum passed easily on Tuesday with 83 percent of the vote, an overwhelming margin rarely seen with public referendums of this sort. But its opponents contended—and had unsuccessfully argued in court—that the ballot's wording loaded the deck in favor of passage by oversimplifying what the measure would do.
The ballot explained that the measure would protect religious expression, the rights of school kids to "pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools," and require the display of the Bill of Rights in all schools.
But, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains, what the ballot didn't mention were provisions assuring that elected officials will be able to pray on public property, and that school kids will be allowed to opt out of any assignment that runs contrary to their religious beliefs. The wording also made no mention of a provision that would limit the religious protections afforded to state inmates.
While the pre-vote legal challenges failed, the ACLU believes that the inmate provision provides a clear opening to have the court block the new amendment. Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, told the Associated Press that the state constitution provides more religious protections than the U.S. Constitution, making it unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.
If the suit is shot down, Rothert suggested the ACLU will likely try other avenues to overturn the referendum. "There will probably be many lawsuits," he told the AP. "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."