Appeals court upholds Missouri ballot language on proposed religious freedom amendment

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Coburn v. Mayer, (MO Ct. App., June 13, 2012), a Missouri state appeals court upheld the sufficiency of the ballot language describing a lengthy proposed state constitutional amendment on religious freedom that is slated to appear on the August 7 primary ballot. The ballot language set by the state legislature for the measure is:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure:

  • That the right of Missouri citizens 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.

It is estimated this proposal will result in little or no costs or savings for state and local governmental entities.

Missouri law (Sec. 116.155) requires that the legislature’s ballot language be limited to 50 words and “be a true and impartial statement of the purposes of the proposed measure in language neither intentionally argumentative nor likely to create prejudice either for or against the proposed measure.” The court rejected challengers’ arguments that the language promises changes that are not in the measure, and is misleading because it fails to indicate it would reduce prisoners’ rights and fails to mention it would allow students to refrain from participating in assignments or educational presentations. (See prior related posting.)