Last week, I wrote about the “Right-to-Pray” Amendment that will be on the ballot in Missouri in August. I wrote about the problems that passage of this Amendment would cause for the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and, more importantly, the public educational system in Missouri.
I missed another important part of the story: the callous deception behind the bill.
As Paul Fidalgo wrote, the part of the Amendment that will have the biggest effect if passed is the section on education:
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
This means that Mormon students will be able to demand an A for a paper that says that Native Americans are descendants of a tribe of Israel. This means that fringe Christian students will be able to demand an A for a paper that says that the Earth is flat and the center of the Universe. This means, essentially, that any teacher of science or history has to be ready to endorse as equally valid any notion that a student claims is core to her religion.
So, how is this disruptive clause described in the summary that will appear on the ballot? Well, here’s the entire summary:
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.
Do you see the section on the classroom effect? No, me neither.
It’s not there.
The conservative Christian Republican legislators who wrote this Amendment intentionally and explicitly excluded from their description the true effect and purpose of the Amendment. As you might expect, the ACLU in Missouri sued to have either the wording of the summary changed or the measure stricken entirely (another issue key to the suit is that the Amendment also removes state protection of religious liberty for prisoners, but that is also not mentioned in the summary).
Unbelievably, a Judge disagreed. I truly don’t understand how an impartial observer could conclude that a summary is “fair” that explicitly excludes all of the important parts. The intentional deception through omission was rewarded.
So, on August 7, the voters of Missouri will see an anodyne ballot measure about making sure everyone has the right to pray. Is there any doubt that a majority of Missourians would think that’s a good thing? However, the hidden effects of that feel-good vote will be deep and pernicious for our students.
Please spread the word among the Missourians you know that this ballot measure is about a lot more than the summary says. Please support Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in publicizing the problems with this Amendment. Please fight for our students.