On Tuesday, August 7th, Missouri voters have an opportunity to vote “Yes” and choose to spend tax dollars on costly litigation for the “right to pray,” supporters of this proposed amendment argue. The advocates seek to impose narrow religious values into a public venue. However, since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 5 of the Missouri Constitution already protect the right to religious discussion and prayer, what is this vote really about?
“Public school students have a right to free exercise of religious expression without interference” – appears to be the divergence tactic to enable the real goal of the amendment to be obscured. “That no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” This statement excuses any public school student from participating in any scientific lesson that includes content that might contradict the teachings of their specific faith. For example, this amendment would protect any Christian public school student from a teacher making statements related to the results of scientific research, if those statements conflict with Biblical teachings like creationism or intelligent design. This also opens the door for students to challenge concepts taught in world history, state history, cultural histories, life skills, health, physical education, social science, government, geology, and any other class. If the student can make a case for the material not coinciding with his/her religious teachings, they may opt-out of the lesson.
Under this amendment, students would be able to pick and choose what classes they are willing to attend, and what assignments they are willing to attempt. The students would become the experts who decide how much or how little critical thinking skills will be practiced in an academic environment where the entire rationale of the space is to promote the imagination and develop. Herein is the means to separate fact from fiction based on input from both logical academic research and philosophical writings. The well-rounded student has the option to compare both of those opinions with the teachings of their faith, weighing differences of opinion between the academic viewpoint and that of their spiritual leaders.
According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the United States educational system is ranked 14th in math, reading and science against 34 countries. If Missouri Amendment 2 is passed those assessment score results will likely fall even lower. If the goal of Missouri is to narrow the viewpoint and limit the understanding of public school students in relation to math, science, and reading, then passing this amendment does make sense. However, if academic competitiveness on a global scale has any value to those living in Missouri, the vote has to be negative.
If those in Missouri choose to reduce the education of their youth, the effect may be long reaching. Other states, especially in the Bible Belt, could take notice and pass similar legislation, further inhibiting the educational progress of the US. In a country where the vast majority of voters is concerned with raising the quality of our education compared to other countries, this amendment advocates exactly the opposite – let us reduce the amount, type, and quality of education to accommodate the wishes of those who would rather lead the masses without any interference.