Thursday, May 24, 2012

Missouri 'Right to Pray' Amendment Could Help Separate Acceptable Religious Practices from Public Disturbances

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Voters in Missouri will decide on August 7 whether to approve a constitutional amendment that guarantees citizens the right to pray in public places. Although the amendment would have appeared on the November ballot because of a vote to include the measure the previous year, Governor Jay Nixon expedited the process by executing a proclamation Wednesday. The U.S. Constitution already protects the right to pray publicly, but Missourians want to further clarify those rights, citing what they call general ignorance about religious expression. If passed, the amendment would accord students the right to pray in school, but would stop short of compelling them to participate. It would also allow for acts of open prayer so long as those rites cause no disturbance to the peace or disruption to public assemblies.

Social conservatives blasted Nixon, a Democrat with an unlikely and ironic surname, for attempting to dilute their presence at the polls in November by baiting them into turning out for the August referendum, which contributes virtually nothing to existing law. However, state GOP leaders said they will exploit the opportunity to define what religious activities should be permitted as prayer and which should count as nuisances.

"There's a fine line," said Rev. Horace Bourber, a pastor for one of the state's largest Baptist congregations. "For instance, my church members generally praise the Lord Christ quietly with their hands clasped. At our most disruptive, if one could call it that, we break into glorious song. And those songs often end up on 'American Idol' and popular records. Unfortunately, there's lots of people in America whose so-called religious expressions lead to unacceptable social disturbances."

Bourber offered an exhaustive list of problematic faiths and their related rituals, but he targeted Islam and Judaism as his "big two."

"Muslim prayer is nothing if not disruptive," Bourber explained. "They do this thing called ululating. It's one of the loudest, most unsettling, and abrupt experiences you can imagine -- like a bomb going off in someone's mouth. They just bawl at the top of their lungs in this warbling battle cry. They're not even speaking an earthly language. It's some weird, nonsensical, ecstatic tongue. Who does that? It's enough to stop your heart. Plus, all that hollering's coming from an eerie sisterhood of nondescript ladies dressed head-to-toe in black. Again, what other religion sponsors such a group of women? And I don't even need to mention how Muslims crash planes into buildings to honor whatever idol they worship -- a being so vague and farcical, clerics can't even draw a picture of him."

Bourber said that while Jews are generally agreeable, their religious practices have been responsible for serious traffic problems: "Apparently, it's illegal for Jews to push the walk button at stoplights after dusk. So, they step right out in front of oncoming cars to cross the street, casual as you please. And you can't see 'em in those long dark clothes, with their faces hidden in a jungle of hair under those big old hats. To my way of thinking, provoking accidents is clearly a threat to the peace and safety of our communities, so that needs to be banned under our revised constitution. These people didn't have a problem leading God's only begotten son to the slaughter, so I suspect they don't take issue with causing traffic collisions."

Some conservatives have criticized the amendment for doing too little to open schools to prayer, but Rev. Bourber supports the restraint.

"Choosing to follow Christ and live a clean life and not burn in Hell is a choice; it's our free will as God's creations," Bourber added. "You can't legally force salvation on a heathen. We've tried. But where I see an opportunity is in identifying those students who refuse to honor the Lord with their classmates. We can take that information and build a list of potential misfits and criminals, which could help our state combat future trouble through a system of early detection."

(c) 2012. See disclaimers.