On August 7, 83.5 percent of the registered voters in Missouri voted overwhelmingly to pass Amendment Two to the Missouri Constitution.
According to the sponsors, the amendment is set up to protect the rights of children to pray in Missouri public schools. I thought those rights were already protected. In 2006, in the Supreme Court case Doe v. Wilson County School System, it was determined that any prayer group by any religious body of students organized, led and sponsored by students without adult direction was protected under the U.S. Constitution.
A child of a religious household, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan or any other recognized religion, already has the rights in the constitution to pray in non-adult sponsored events on school property, so why is this amendment touted as the “Right to Pray” Amendment?
Examining the critical clauses of the amendment show is not about prayer. The exact language of the amendment states that the Missouri Constitution is to be amended to in part read thus: “…students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work” (Section 5 article 1).
As we examine this section of the new amendment, we see that the teacher’s personal religious views cannot be used as part of the criteria for grading an assignment by any student. A great idea, but do teachers not already utilize this parameter? If a teacher in Missouri public schools continually grades assignments poorly that do not reflect his or her personal views, will not the administration, teachers, students and parents confront that teacher so that the teacher can make changes to this behavior? Why do we need the state constitution to mandate this common sense parameter?
A little further on, the amendment states that "no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.”
According to this language, if a Catholic student or his or her parents decide that the child should not participate in a class on the Protestant Reformation, then the child will not participate in that class. There are plenty of religious views that are counter to the prevailing viewpoint of society – what if a white supremacist's child decides that a class on Martin Luther King Jr. is a violation of his or her religious views? What if a Lutheran child decides that a literature class that is reading "Romeo and Juliet" is a violation of his or her religious views, since both Romeo and Juliet are violating the commandment "Honor thy father and mother"? If a particular child’s religious belief states that sex is for procreation only and that to use a condom is a violation of his or her religion, could that child opt out of a class about safe sex? If a child feels that evolution is against his or her belief, could that child skip biology for the entire year? After all, much of biological study is based on evolutionary principles.
Logistically, does the child then roam the halls or go sit in another class? Who is responsible for the child when he or she is out of the class? Of course, the school is, so now another staff member and a location are needed for all the students who desire to opt out for religious reasons from the class. In this time of economic challenge, does the Missouri Department of Education have the necessary funding to add this classroom and the necessary adult supervisor to the class?
In the United States, these are issues of curriculum, not religion. We have school boards, curriculum committees and other adult venues for these discussions. Handing the determination of what a child learns to the child is a dangerous precedent. That being said, the amendment doesn't specify who makes the final determination: Is it the student, or is it the parent? In the 21st century, children need to learn as much as possible about every religion in order to make informed, spiritually-based decisions for themselves as adults. High schools are full of students who are already ostracized due to differences in dress and personal hygiene, religion, sex and race. As mothers and fathers to our children, we are standing as the voice of reason in an age that is fraught with rumor mongering, judgment and hatred for those who are different from what is determined to be normal. We cannot afford Amendment Two. It is a step too far.