This just in: Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2. OzarksFirst reports that the Constitutional Amendment received over 80% support yesterday at the polls.
Those who’ve been following this story know that the amendment is largely symbolic. It guarantees people in Missouri the right to pray in public–especially including public schools–as long as their prayers do not bother anyone else. This right has already been established by the US Supreme Court. The kinds of school prayer deemed unconstitutional by SCOTUS in the 1960s were those imposed by the state and led by a teacher or school official. The right of students to pray on their own has never been constitutionally threatened.
However, politicians and activists have long insisted that SCOTUS kicked God out of public schools. This amendment is meant as a sort of line in the sand. Fundamentalist Missouri wants to make it clear that students may pray in public schools. Some voters have surely been traumatized by horror stories of students being suspended for Christian statements. Teachers such as Bradley Johnson in California have claimed persecution when they have not been allowed to display religious messages in their public-school classrooms.
These sorts of highly publicized skirmishes inspired Missouri’s move. As the sponsor of the amendment Mike McGhee explained in a National Public Radio story ,
“We are a religious country, and we want to take our country back, and we want to pray to God, and we can gather around the flagpole and say something to Jesus in our minds and in our hearts and it’s going to be okay.”
As everyone knows, in culture-war battles, symbolism matters. Political moves like Missouri’s Amendment 2 help marshal the sides, force people to declare for one or the other. In Missouri, this has meant, for instance, the public support of Catholic bishops for the amendment. As McGhee argued, Fundamentalist America feels a powerful need to “take our country back.”
Can students now pray in Missouri’s public schools? Yes. Could they have before this constitutional amendment? Yes. But that doesn’t mean the amendment isn’t important. To observers like those at ILYBYGTH, votes like the one yesterday in Missouri demonstrate the continuing power of Fundamentalist America.