Missouri’s ‘freedom of religion’ fail

Jerry Coyne has the story on his website:

On Tuesday, by a 5-1 margin, voters approved a “right to pray” amendment to the state Constitution that guarantees what the residents already have, but adds a couple of nefarious provisions

The amendment contains these words:

That all men and women have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no human authority can control or interfere with the rights of conscience; that no person shall, on account of his or her religious persuasion or belief, be rendered ineligible to any public office or trust or profit in this state, be disqualified from testifying or serving as a juror, or be molested in his or her person or estate; that to secure a citizen’s right to acknowledge Almighty God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience, neither the state nor any of its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion, nor shall a citizen’s right to pray or express his or her religious beliefs be infringed

So far this all sounds fine. This is classic freedom of religion. Except that the amendment is completely unnecessary as people already have all these rights.

Here’s where is starts getting problematic

that the state shall not coerce any person to participate in any prayer or other religious activity, but shall ensure that any person shall have the right to pray individually or corporately in a private or public setting so long as such prayer does not result in disturbance of the peace or disruption of a public meeting or assembly; that citizens as well as elected officials and employees of the state of Missouri and its political subdivisions shall have the right to pray on government premises and public property so long as such prayers abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar circumstances; that the General Assembly and the governing bodies of political subdivisions may extend to ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General Assembly or governing bodies;

The above section has the potential to restrict, rather than enhance, freedom of religion as it provides a way for specific religious sects to use government property as a venue for promoting their views.

But here’s the worst part:

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

The most obvious interpretation of this is that students can be encouraged by family members or religious groups to opt out of any education in evolution. It could also affect sex education, any classes in which any progressive values are discussed (e.g, gay rights, civil rights, and feminism). In other words, the religious right are using “freedom of religion” as a cover for trying to fiddle with the secular world. It is not making a huge leap to predict years of lawsuits resulting from this amendent.

Also, as Jerry Coyne notes in closing:

If this isn’t challenged in the courts, expect a spate of similar legislation in benighted states, and a new crop of kids who will emerge from school ignorant of their origins and those of every other species. Equating refusal to learn important scientific truths with religious freedom is a devilishly clever strategy, but won’t fly—unless it goes to the hyperconservative U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on issues like this.

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