The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..."
Article I, Section 5 of the Missouri Constitution reads: "That all men 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 ..."
In a little more than two weeks, you will be asked to vote on the inclusion of language into our state constitution under the heading of "Constitutional Amendment No. 2." My position is simple and straight forward:
This is not a discussion concerning separation of church and state as it is our right to free expression of faith or nonfaith. The Missouri "do-nothing" conservative-lead Assembly had nothing better to do in 2011 than to waste time on an emotional-based argument. Much like the U.S. House is doing today concerning the Affordable Care Act.
Those who support this bill argue that it is reaffirming the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is not and might be found to be in violation of those rights of religious liberty we so deeply hold in our pluralistic society.
In my opinion, it might also violate sections 6 ("Practice and support of religion not compulsory"), 7 ("That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion …") and 8 ("Freedom of Speech") of the Missouri Constitution, and our federal constitutional right to privacy, in this case of our faith or nontheism.
House Joint Resolution 2 (2011) is asking Missouri residents to add language to our constitution that would:
1. Guarantee our right to pray in public places. This is already guaranteed in the federal and state constitutions, so this language is simply duplicating what is already written. There is nothing in law that prevents prayer at any time or anywhere as long as it does not disturb others.
2. The amendment will allow governmental entities to "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 ..."
According to state Reps. Mary Still and Stephen Webber, former state Rep. Judy Baker and state Sen. Ken Jacob, requests to have a rabbi give the invocation have been ignored by the Republican leadership since at least 2004. I can only conclude that requests for a Muslim or Buddhist invocation would be equally ignored.
It appears that the conservative members of the General Assembly are attempting to justify paying clergy of the Christian faiths to offer prayer on the taxpayers’ dime.
3) The amendment would permit "students [to] express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work ..."
This is a not-so-veiled attempt to allow for discussion and the interruption of natural science classes using religious ideology — read: evolution, a proven bio-science, versus creationism or any of its many offshoots, a religious philosophy. Teaching is hard enough without adding distractions allowed by the state constitution.
4) The proposal "emphasize[s] the right to free exercise of religion; that all free public schools receiving state appropriations shall display, in a conspicuous and legible manner, the text of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States ..."
As I read this, only one portion of one sentence of the Constitution and its amendments will be highlighted. The only purpose here is to create an undue and inappropriate sense of religious, mainly Christian, based patriotism and discrediting all those who are not of the Christian persuasions.
As I have said many times in the past, I am an atheist, I am not anti-religion, and my patriotism to my country or my adopted state cannot be questioned. I am not advocating the elimination of any religious belief.
I am a supporter of our First Amendment rights to free speech and our personal morality, whether based on one’s scriptures or on societal secular norms. I have written in support of those of faith and have donated, as an atheist, to religious based charities and places of worship.
However, I am stating, unequivocally, that Amendment No. 2 has a strong possibility of violating the state and federal constitutions and, for that reason, I implore you to vote "no" on this otherwise waste of our time and tax dollars.