The "Right" to Worship Almighty God
In essence, it seems like this language could invalidate any hope of standards or accountability in education—much less hope that education will foster maturity or intellectual curiosity. We could simply opt-out of anything that challenges our previously-held beliefs. And, perhaps more to the point, we could be compelled to opt-out because our studies conflict with our parents' beliefs, regardless of our own. I can see this clause being truly devastating to the intellectual development of Missouri students. It sounds miserable.
Then there's that bit about prisoners. The bill notes that the protections it guarantees don't expand the rights of prisoners—the religious freedoms of the incarcerated are still essentially whatever the prison system deems suitable. For Pagans, Missouri is fairly progressive, as far as I know—Wicca has full programming support, and the Department of Corrections states that other religions are accommodated on an individual basis. (How true that assertion is, I don't know --but I would certainly like to.) So, at least for Wiccans, I assume the bill doesn't change much. But the fact that the lawmakers went out of their way to include that line—again, codifying something that was already apparent in the previous wording—suggests a fear that the "protections" in the bill could otherwise be used for minority religions in the prison system.
To me, the prisoner clause demonstrates just how thin this bill's veneer of "religious equality" is. Certainly this amendment would not lead to more open and equal protection of all religions. That protection is already guaranteed under the current wording, "Almighty God" aside. These new, specific tests of religious protection (i.e., the "freedom" to have one religion represent the beliefs of the entire state's citizens, the "freedom" for schools to abdicate responsibility for teaching anything that might conflict with a student's beliefs, and the stated lack of freedom for prisoners) demonstrate that this bill has nothing to do with real religious freedom. It is just an attempt to enshrine certain pet issues of conservative Christianity into Missouri's Constitution under the guise of protecting religious expression.
And, to be blunt, I say to hell with that.
Eric Scott was raised in St. Louis by Coven Pleiades, a Wiccan group based in the Alexandrian tradition. His fiction and memoir explore the joys and doubts of being a second-generation Pagan in the modern world. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Ashe! Journal, Kerouac's Dog Magazine, Caper Literary Journal, and Witches & Pagans. He is also a Contributing Editor at Killing the Buddha.