Have you read the Missouri Constitution? No? Not unusual at all, for it seems that a majority of our legislators under the gray dome have not read the state’s constitution either. That’s a shame.
Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, has proposed a new amendment for the already thick and overburdened state constitution to reaffirm a citizen's right to free expression of religion, particularly on government property. But where is the free expression of religion not allowed? Certainly not in our state House or Senate with the daily opening prayers.
McGee’s HJR 2, the “Religious Freedom in Public Places” bill, was filed, read three times, ran through committees, passed the House and is now in the Senate.
On Jan. 18, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, introduced HJR 10, the “Educational Freedom” bill which, through another proposed amendment to the state constitution, would remove “the prohibition against state funds being used to support any religion or religious school.”
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution already gives the citizens of this nation the right to practice their religious or non-religious beliefs as they wish, with few restrictions (such as snake handling, self-mutilation and trespassing). The amendment also allows for free expression of ideas, even if others disagree. Case in point: Westboro Baptist Church. What the amendment does not permit is state-sanctioned or supported religion or religious activity.
The Missouri Constitution mirrors the federal amendment. Article I, Section 5 of the state constitution says Missouri residents have the right to personal religious beliefs without government interference. Article I, Sections 8 and 9 talk of Missourians’ right to free speech and assembly.
There are no restrictions from private worship or from having religious meetings on public property, including schools, as long as all groups are treated equally and with respect and those meetings are not sanctioned by the public entity.
So why did the representatives offer these bills? Are these two men constitutionally illiterate? Or are they simply grandstanding to capture the attention and votes of the various Christian conservative movements throughout the state and their districts? As a friend said, “Ya think?”
Grandstanding based on religion has also come to our local elections. Sara R. Dickson is running for one of the three open seats on the Columbia Public Schools’ Board of Education. I must say Dickson is well qualified for the post, with one caveat. Her campaign material does not stress her excellent education or her excellent managerial background. It stresses that she stands for “Christian, conservative values.” Will her religion guide her decisions regarding Columbia schools?
Why am I so irked that these proposals and candidates are relying on "Christian” values for votes? Is it because I am a liberal and a protector of all religion, including atheism, as well as the Constitution? You bet.
These individuals and others who put their religion above all else do not believe they are crossing that fine, but solid, line separating church and state. Yet, they have entwined the two arms of society that our founders, by design, separated. Jesus, in Matthew 22, reminds us that there are two sets of laws, man’s and God’s, and both must be obeyed.
I have a question for the zealots — which Christianity? Catholic? Mormon? Fundamentalist? Baptist? Non-denominationalists?
What about the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other non-Christian and non-deist minority religions represented in our great country? How about agnostics and atheists?
The insanity in Jefferson City must stop now. The entire premise of the American experiment, the Constitution and the rule of law are being threatened by those claiming superiority based on religious beliefs alone. In trying to make this a Christian nation, they are killing American values.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.