With over 82% of the vote, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to pray. Of course, the U.S. Constitution has granted that right in the First Amendment since its ratification in 1789.
No law prohibits anyone in a school, on public property or anywhere else from privately praying. Nevertheless, some Missourians felt that was not enough so they sought to add specific protections to the state constitution.
The amendment protects the right to voluntary prayer in the schools or government property, either individually or in groups as long at it does not disturb the peace. It also prohibits the state from coercing anyone from being forced to engage in any religious activity. The amendment also enshrined into the constitution the right of legislative bodies to sponsor prayers and invocations.
The amendment guarantees that no one shall be forbidden from serving in a political office or as a juror based on religious beliefs. It also states that “a citizen’s right to pray or express his or her religious beliefs” shall not be infringed.
It also required that the Bill of Rights be posted in public view at schools receiving state funds. Being that students must study the Constitution and Bill of Rights at school, the benefits of this requirement are questionable. It has already been decided by the courts that free speech can be limited in public schools. Of course, carrying guns into schools is forbidden as well. Therefore, the first two amendments to the Bill of Rights already have exceptions in public schools. The explanations for those exceptions are best left in the classroom, not on a bulletin board in an administrative office, but the writers of this amendment seem to disagree.
Although the amendment was written and supported by Christians, it reaffirmed numerous protections for religious minorities like Muslims and atheists. Outside of the right of legislative bodies to hold prayers, there is little in much of the amendment to upset people who do not share the same Christian values as its advocates. Then again, the First Amendment protects these rights already.
Unfortunately, the amendment dove into subjects that are decidely more controversial and unconstitutional. At the forefront of that is this language:
[N]o student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs;
Plans to challenge this are already being prepared by organizations who do not believe that education should be driven by religion. This language would allow a student to skip a homework assignment that might involve the Big Bang Theory or evolution on the basis that it conflicts with the religious belief of creationism.
The argument can be made that the only additional religious protection that this amendment grants is for students who believe that some schoolwork violates their religious beliefs. This is a serious problem, not just for advancing education but the extra burden placed on teachers.
Imagine a science exam that covers a broad range of basic science questions. Anytime that a question on the Big Bang or evolution pops up, a student could refuse to answer it based on religious belief. How is a teacher going to grade a paper with unanswered questions fairly? Some students might leave it unanswered because they do not know the answer, while others will do so on religious belief. Perhaps the student is supposed to note that he or she defers to answer based on religious belief.
The concept reeks of impracticality.
Besides, this will only create a school system where science, facts and critical thinking are secondary to opinion and belief. The U.S. is supposed to teach its children to become adept in a technological society, not walking them back to a medieval society or the American equivalent of Islamic madrasseses.
A student could decide to ignore the study of the history of non-Christian societies on the claim that studying pagan ways violates his or her religious belief. Algebra could be considered a violation of religious beliefs as it was discovered by Muslims. Conversely, an atheist student studying literature could refuse an assignment on Bible because it violates religious belief.
This amendment has the potential to turn education on its head. Instead of experts in the field of math, science, history and all subjects presenting what is the best known facts of today’s world, parents and students are going to be given veto power over classroom content. It is a recipe for chaos. Even worse, it is a recipe for ignorance. With this kind of backwards thinking, there is no way that the U.S. is going to catch its rivals in the industrialized world that always seem to edge the U.S. on academic scores.