I’m from Missouri (show me!), and so am especially disturbed at the latest doings in my natal state. On Tuesday, by a 5-1 margin, voters approved a “right to pray” amendment to the state Constitution that guarantees what the residents already have, but adds a couple of nefarious provisions. Missouri’s Constitutional Amendment 2, voted in by a 779,628 to 162,404 margin, reads in part (download the full text here):
Section 5. That all men and women have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no human authority can control or interfere with the rights of conscience; that no person shall, on account of his or herreligious persuasion or belief, be rendered ineligible to any public office or trust or profit in this state, be disqualified from testifying or serving as a juror, or be molested in his or her person or estate; that to secure a citizen’s right to acknowledge Almighty God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience, neither the state nor any of its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion, nor shall a citizen’s right to pray or express his or her religious beliefs be infringed; . . .
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.
And here’s the bad part: the amendment also guarantees
that students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work; that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs; . .
That is, students aren’t compelled to learn about or write about evolution, the Big Bang, or even things like medicine if they contravene what a student has been brainwashed to believe.
As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:
Any immediate impact of the amendment, which takes effect in 30 days, is still unclear. The new amendment broadly expands the protections in the state’s constitution by adding new sections on religious issues. In addition to protecting voluntary prayer in school, the amendment:
• Ensures the right to pray, individually or in groups, in private or public places, as long as the prayer does not disturb the peace or disrupt a meeting.
• Prohibits the state from coercing religious activity.
• Protects the right to pray on government property.
• Protects the right of legislative bodies to sponsor prayers and invocations.
• Says students need not take part in assignments or presentations that violate their religious beliefs.
That last provision may soon become the subject of litigation, some critics warned. They said it could lead to students skipping science classes or assignments when they disagree with teaching about the origins of man.
Supporters said those fears were overblown.
Overblown? The state constitution makes it legal for students to miss classes on evolution. If that’s not bait for a lawsuit, I don’t know what is. Better to litigate now than wait for the students to start boycotting their biology classes. “Freedom of religion” is not the same as freedom to refuse, in public schools, exposure to truths about the world that happen to contradict iron-age myths. That last provision is, I believe, aimed specifically at evolution. In what other area of instruction are students’ religious beliefs “violated”?
But the amendment is unnecessary because the state and federal constitutions and court rulings already guarantee these rights. It would, instead, create confusion and wreak havoc in classrooms by giving students the right to refuse to read anything or do any assignments that they claim offends their religious views. . .
Another change could lead to litigation about where nonsectarian, constitutional invocations cross the line into sectarian, unconstitutional prayers; instead of seeking the Almighty’s blessing, for example, officials at public events could ask for Jesus’s blessing.
The wording would further encourage “the General Assembly and the governing bodies of political subdivisions” to invite ministers and others “to offer invocations or other prayers” at public sessions.
Amendment 2 springs from the view that religious freedom is vulnerable unless the Missouri Constitution is revised. But the Missouri Supreme Court has already said that the protection of religious freedom by the State Constitution is more “explicit” than what the First Amendment provides and its protection against government establishment of religion more “restrictive.”
If Missourians amend their Constitution, they will erode rather than enhance their religious freedom.
If this isn’t challenged in the courts, expect a spate of similar legislation in benighted states, and a new crop of kids who will emerge from school ignorant of their origins and those of every other species. Equating refusal to learn important scientific truths with religious freedom is a devilishly clever strategy, but won’t fly—unless it goes to the hyperconservative U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on issues like this.