Missouri Amendment 2: A Trojan Horse for (Christian) Government & School Prayer

On Tuesday, Missourians will have an amendment to their state constitution on the ballot. The official summary reads:

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.

Sounds pretty unobjectionable, right? Wrong: this measure is just the latest in a long line of Trojan horse efforts to twist the language of religious liberty in order to create loopholes for governments and schools to promote mainstream religion – inevitably Christianity. A similar law was proposed in my own state just last year, but thankfully it died in committee. That measure and this one are both being pushed by conservative Christians who wrongly conflate the separation of church and state with an attack on their religious liberties, rather than the necessary breathing space required for First Amendment freedoms – everyone’s First Amendment freedoms – to survive.

Make no mistake: this amendment is squarely about putting Christianity front and center in Missouri’s government and schools. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Christian supporters claiming they have lost their “home-field advantage” and that “there’s a hostility toward Christians,” in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Missourians are Christian. Members of minority Abrahamic religions know that when this amendment talks about protecting “religion,” it actually means “Christianity:”

 

Les Sterman, domestic issues advocacy chair for the Jewish Community Relations Council, said the amendment ‘sanctioned religious activity in public places” and would have “the net effect of sanctioning certain religions that tend to dominate in certain areas, and we find that alarming.”

Ghazala Hayat of the Islamic Foundation of St. Louis called the amendment “redundant” and said that if it passed it would mean that “the majority faith is sending a message to Americans of minority faiths that ‘you’re not part of us.'”

We know that at least one legislator in Louisiana felt that their attempt to provide government support for Christianity through school vouchers had backfired when she discovered that Christianity isn’t the only religion in the US. I suspect advocates for this amendment feel the same way and have absolutely zero interest in protecting the right to pray for non-Christian monotheists, let alone Pagans.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State explains that if Amendment 2 is passed, it will involve the state in costly litigation. The amendment would put Missouri’s constitution at odds with current legal interpretation of the US Constitution on matters of school prayer and government speech. This delicate balance has been struck through years of legal cases and precedents; by blowing straight past all of that, Missouri would open itself up to re-litigating all of those matters, and the expense would fall squarely on the voters.

The Kansas City Star published an editorial coming down squarely against Amendment 2 as superfluous. It echoes the Islamic leader above by saying that the “rights” the amendment says it protects are already guaranteed, and that if the measure does only what its backer claim, it is unnecessary: “the Missouri Constitution isn’t meant to be a holding ground for political statements or redundant amendments.”

But what if it’s not merely redundant? A careful reading of the full text of the amendment – not just the summary presented on the ballot – reveals a lot more than just protecting already-covered rights. The issue of prayer before governmental meetings is an important one as it has the potential to send a message of government endorsement of religion. Recent cases in the Second and Fourth Circuits have found that fig-leaf attempts at “inclusiveness” are not always enough to allow governments to present prayer that overwhelmingly favors Christianity; it’s very likely that this amendment’s backers are attempting to send a message to their Eighth Circuit that the heartland shouldn’t follow that East-coast trend.

But the most disturbing provisions have to do with the role of religion in school, where it addresses a lot more than simple prayer. It also 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; that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs…

In other words, although the teaching of Creationism has been rightly disallowed, this amendment would bring it in through the back door by forbidding teachers from teaching and grading students based on actual science: no need to study for that test on the chapter about evolution, kids, because you can just explain that you don’t believe in that, so you’re exempt! Considering how fundamental evolution is to every part of science, a really committed kid could simply skip big sections from biology to chemistry – no carbon-dating here! – to parts of physics – we know where the solar system came from, no orbital mechanics required!

On the whole, this amendment isn’t just deceptive, it’s dangerously deceptive because it attempts to co-opt the language of religious liberty to achieve purposes that will actually undermine freedom.

Missouri’s Amendment 2 is simply the latest legal Trojan horse being rolled up to the wall of separation between church and state decked in the flag, explained with a cover story drawn straight from the modern-day martyrdom myth of conservative Christians who are crouched inside, waiting and hoping for voters to open the gates and give their sectarian agenda the full force of government support.

People who are interested in real religious liberty should see through the ruse, leave the horse where it is, and vote no.

This post was written by
Literata is a Wiccan who studies theaology and enjoys developing poetry and rituals. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Mandragora and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. She also blogs at Forging Futures and writes for her own site, Works of Literata, . When she's not leading Rose Coven, reading Tarot or communing with nature, she works on her Ph.D. dissertation in history and enjoys travel and spending time with her husband and four cats. Please note that everything Literata writes here is solely her own personal opinion. It does not represent the position of any organization with which she is affiliated.
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