Missouri Votes to Reap the Whirlwind
August 9, 2012
Missouri voters this week approved a benighted and mischievous “right to pray” amendment to the state’s Constitution. Amendment Two passed by 779,628 votes to 162,404, a thundering 5-to-1 margin!
Amendment Two provides, among other things, “that the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed” and “that school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools.” It also protects the right to pray on government property and defends the “right” of public bodies to open meetings with prayer. But its most atrocious provision provides:
that students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work; [and] that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs …You read that right. Public school students will be able to use their class assignments to bray about their religious beliefs, while classmates of minority faiths (or none) sit fuming while an alien religion is ground into their faces. (Or maybe not; see below.) But here is the peak of Amendment Two’s perversity. It explicitly empowers students to opt out of any class whose content conflicts with their (or more likely, their parents’) religious convictions.
Pundits immediately recognized the potential for Christian students to opt out of biology class in droves to avoid exposure to the theory of evolution. Missouri lawyers must be salivating at the prospect of the litigation that will result from this alone; but evolution is only the most obvious issue that religious conservatives will be able to seize on to disrupt public education.
I’m counting the hours until some Christian student demands to be released from an earth science class after hearing that the earth is billions of years old, not six thousand. A few geocentrists, even a flat-earther or two, might press to skip general science classes also, since the Old and New Testaments clearly insinuate that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it. (The story of Joshua’s victory over the Amorites [Joshua 10] can scarcely be understood in any other way.) Nor may math classes escape unscathed, for the Old Testament states not once but twice (I Kings 7:23-26, II Chronicles 4:2-5) that the value of pi is exactly 3.0.
And woe to the teacher who so much as mentions same-sex marriage during civics class or some discussion of current events. If there is a single subject on which that variegated panoply we know as the Bible never contradicts itself, it is on the profound wickedness of homosexuality (at least when practiced by males).
But wait; I may have spoken too soon about the prospect of atheist and minority-faith students being oppressed by Christian classmates who use book reports or public-speaking exercises as opportunities to scream about Jesus. After all, the right to opt out of “academic assignments or educational presentations that violate … religious beliefs” applies to them too. So I suppose that ere long, we will see students of one faith exercising their new-minted freedom to “express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments” in order to proselytize students of other faiths – followed by many of those “other-faith” students exercising their opt-out rights in order to escape their classmates’ hectoring. So Muslim students will flee rather than absorb the preaching of Christian or Jewish classmates, and Christians will abscond rather than listen to the heresies of Muslims and Buddhists, and atheists may bolt rather than put up with any of them. After which, of course, their parents will all sue the school!
One wonders what the architects of Amendment Two truly had in mind. Did they seek merely a “bright” future of Christian students weaving their faith into classwork with impunity? Or was the real aim to trigger an orgy of mutual retaliatory opting-out, litigation, and counter-litigation such as might bring the edifice of public education crashing into cinders?
Sadly, it seems the once-great state of Missouri is poised to learn the hard way that separation of religion and government isn’t just good for religion; it’s good for government too. Soon we’ll see how well – if at all – Missouri’s public schools (and other public institutions) can operate after they have been well and deeply mired in the strife of sects.In the wake of Missouri’s devastating Amendment Two vote, it’s going to be whirlwind-reaping time.