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COLUMN: Bill focused on religion takes away from other issues

Thursday, February 4, 2010 | 10:51 a.m. CST; updated 9:58 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The great brains under the Gray Dome have introduced a proposed state constitutional amendment that seems to make a mockery of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Senate Majority Leader Delbert Scott’s SJR 31 calls for a state public referendum for a constitutional amendment that will reaffirm the First Amendment, that of “a citizen's right to free expression of religion.” Why?

Thomas Jefferson’s “Virginia Act for Establishing the Freedom of Religion” was not the only document our founders followed to declare this to be a pluralistic nation. The founders, regardless of religious belief or affiliation, well understood that tyranny seems to flow hand-in-hand with a theocratic government.

James Madison also found strength to separate these two spheres of influence. As the Commonwealth of Virginia discussed a proposed public tax to pay the salaries for teachers of religion, Madison wrote an elegant but little-read opposition paper. So powerful was his argument that the proposed tax was set aside and Jefferson’s act was introduced, argued and approved.

So what is so dangerous about Missouri’s proposed amendment? Like so many other attempts to cross the line, it offers a backdoor approach to establish the Christian religion in public school curriculum.

First, the positive but confusing points.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution says that Missouri will not establish a state religion or coerce any person to pray.  This is a good thing, but it's already established in the U.S. Constitution and by court rulings.

It allows clergy to offer a prayer before sessions of either House. However, clergy already offers invocations for both chambers without scorn or protest.

It would require all schools to display the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. Great, but why not the entire Constitution?

The proposed amendment “provides that students may engage in private and voluntary prayer, acknowledgment of God, or other religious expression, individually or in groups, and express their religious beliefs in school assignments without discrimination based on the religious content of their work.” Yet, students already have these guarantees under the Constitution as long as the activities remain private and not sanctioned by the school.

As a private activity, students can pray today, may discuss religion today and are not discriminated against because of beliefs in school. There are always exceptions. The perceived difficulty is when teachers and school officials are perceived to begin sanctions of these activities as part of an “official” event or class.

The perceived problem is that students who profess the belief of one religion set about to ridicule those of another belief, sect or who foster no belief in a god at all.  

The perceived problem is that students who profess a belief as the majority themselves become the victim of discrimination and intolerance.

The perceived problem is that school officials or teachers may call for a “voluntary” prayer or moment of silence, when the hidden agenda is that of promoting a single religious belief.

Why reopen this Pandora’s Box? This is nothing more than a covert attempt by one extreme sect of the conservative movement to insert a highly charged, but non-important and non-priority issue for its own political gain. We have seen this before with bills calling for English as the official language and proposed bans on burning the American flag. The use of nonsensical issues are designed to take the public’s eye off the miserable job these legislators are doing in protecting the citizens of Missouri by passing, revising and removing laws to help move the state forward.

I am not saying that all members of the conservative movement or religious right are anarchists. Many disagree with the extremes and know there are more important issues to discuss, like school funding, road and highway repairs and improvements, and jobs. Don't waste time on slop.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.  Read his blog at InkandVoice.wordpress.com.  He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.


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