Thursday, August 02, 2012

Democracy for Missouri Endorses a NO Vote on Amendment 2

      Democracy for Missouri endorses a NO vote on Amendment 2 (the prayer amendment). The wording on the ballot summary of the amendment is very misleading and deceptive. On the ballot it appears as though the amendment simply protects the right to voluntary prayer in schools. Both the United States Bill of Rights and the current Missouri constitution already give students the right to pray in school. On its surface the ballot language appears to simply reaffirm rights that students already have. However if you dig into the actual full text of the amendment, the proposed changes that the amendment suggests are far reaching, anti-education, anti-separation of church and state, and troubling.
      The language in the full amendment goes much further than the ballot language suggests in two significant ways.

1. First, it allows students to refuse to participate in any academic assignment or educational presentation that violates, offends, or challenges his or her religious beliefs. 

2. Second it allows government entities and public schools to de facto sponsor and promote prayers of the religious affiliation of their choice. It would allow members of the dominant majority religion to invite their denomination of religion into government and schools and in effect impose their form of religious prayer and expression on followers of other religious faiths in any public or governmental setting. This would blur the boundary between church and state and put Missouri in violation of the US Constitution. 

These two elements go beyond existing law and have significant consequences that are not reflected in the innocuous ballot language.  

Consequences for Public Education:  

     One part of the amendment reads that “no student should be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” Under amendment 2 students could refuse to complete school assignments, school exams, and even entire classes if such classes would contradict their religious beliefs. Students could skip tests and assignments on evolution or sex education. Students whose religious views of history contradicted standard American or World History could also opt out of history courses. And students could refuse assignments, tests, and courses in biology, geology, astronomy and other sciences that rely on empiricism rather than faith as the foundation for knowledge. Moreover, a student who is caught bullying gay and lesbian students could potentially sue a school district if they required him or her to attend an educational presentation on sexual orientation, anti-bullying, or tolerance as a response to their bullying.
      It should be noted that the originator of the amendment Michael McGhee (R-Odessa) was also a co-sponsor of the controversial “Don’t say gay bill” which would have banned mention of sexual orientation in the schools. This amendment gives students the power to determine curriculum based both on respectful faith-based beliefs as well as on faith-based prejudices and bigotries. Matters of personal faith should be the decision of students, but matters of curricular content and basic educational standards in science, history and other disciplines should be determined by educators, not the views of individual students.  

Creating de facto State Sponsored Religion in Public Schools and Government 

      In addition to its consequences for public education, the bill appears to violate religious freedom by allowing public schools and governments to promote some religions at the expense of other religions. Language of note in the longer amendment includes “that the General Assembly and the governing bodies of political subdivisions may extend to ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General Assembly or governing bodies” and enshrines “the right to pray individually or corporately in a private or public setting…including on government premises.” This wording would allow government and schools to promote specific religious faiths either individually or corporately. Legislative prayers—even when given by individual clergy members—are still statements made by the government and allowing sectarian legislative prayer amounts to promoting a religion.
     Similarly corporate and collective school prayers and school prayers lead by graduation speakers or other public speakers are school sponsored statements promoting a particular sectarian religion. Government and public school employees have a constitutional right to the religion, prayer and speech of their choice as private citizens, but when government and school employees are conducting their official duties their speech is attributed to the governing body or school. This amendment appears to allow them to promote their particular religions in an official setting.

 Vote NO on Amendment 2

 Because Amendment 2 would allow students to refuse to participate in academic assignments of educational value and importance, and because it would allow schools and governments to de facto promote some religious faiths at the expense of others, Democracy for Missouri endorses a NO vote on Amendment 2.