Author Zach Lorentz
Zach is the current Director of Public Affairs of the Secular Student Alliance at Missouri S&T. His interests include sexual freedom, reproductive rights, LGBT equality, and advocating for proper scientific education and understanding.
On August 7th, my home state of Missouri will entertain another in a long line of constitutional changes. Amendments banning same-sex marriage, banning embryonic stem cell research, and establishing
American English as the official language of the state have all been ratified in just the last 10 years. The newest proposed amendment regarding “religious freedom” follows this trend of legislating via constitution, with measures ranging from redundant protections to education meddling to direct contradictions of the establishment clause.
The amendment opens with a reiteration of the Missouri Constitution’s preamble, prattling on about “a citizen’s right to acknowledge Almighty God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.” Note the subtle enshrinement of the “Freedom of Conscience” for those in power politically or economically, which I’ve already addressed in my first post. Also note that it is Almighty Gawd, not Vishnu or Allah or Odin; specifically an establishment of Judeo-Christianity over any other religion. Any person who says otherwise will also probably tell you a cross is not a Christian symbol or a prayer can be non-sectarian.
After a portion that upholds already-protected public prayer, next comes an inevitable conflict with the establishment clause. The amendment states here that elected officials “…may extend to ministers, clergy persons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General Assembly or governing bodies.” The religious officials already bless various government meetings, and this change concretely pits the Missouri constitution against the United States constitution.
The most personally concerning portion is the “Homework Is Against My Religion” section. According to this amendment, students will be redundantly protected against discrimination based on religious beliefs expressed in assignments. The drafters then revealingly go on to protect against being taught anything that violates their religion, clearly alluding to evolution/sex education/etc. This capitulation to religious silliness may create ridiculous networks of “separate but equal” educational curriculums within the state, the school districts, and even within individual schools. Also, lazy or disaffected students could claim religious freedom from the classes they don’t like; consequently, what would be the test for a “true” religious objection? A divorce from reality might be protected as religious freedom, but if a student taught God-of-the-Gaps Design, the deposition of fossils by a worldwide flood, and a universe spoken into existence earns the same high-school diploma as a student taught proper science, the next generation of Missourians will lag far behind the development of the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, the worst part about this shoehorned pile of religious privilege is that Missouri voters will probably pass it with a wide margin. The uninformed will see the misleading ballot language (“Missouri citizens’ right to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed, school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools”) and just check the yes box. The religious right who know the contents of the amendment will gladly protect their already favored position in the Missouri constitution. The informed secularists will vote negatively but in too small of numbers, or so the current state of the state would predict.
Missouri voters, the deadline to register for the August 7th vote on this amendment is July 11th. Get the vote out however you can. Raise stinks about the real changes this amendment would enact. Whether or not this measure passes, the state of Missouri at large needs to know about the ramifications of this awful amendment.