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May 25 2012

Missouri votes on redundant First Amendment amendment

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the voters in the state of Missouri will be voting this fall on a proposed amendment to the state constitution protecting the right to pray in public places.

While the U.S. Constitution protects the right to pray in public places, supporters of the Missouri ballot issue want to clarify those rights. In House committee testimony last year, they said there is increasing ignorance about religious expression. Opponents testified that the amendment adds nothing to existing law and may invite litigation.

Here Fido, here boy, who’s a good doggie then? Now roll over.

Personally, I think they’d have been farther ahead passing an amendment protecting citizens against unwarranted search and seizure, considering that the federal one seems to be missing in action somehow. But this is certainly not a bad thing to have, other than being redundant. The proposed amendment protects public prayer as long as it is initiated by private citizens and not by the state, and as long as it does not disturb the peace or disrupt whatever proceedings are going on, e.g. a class or a council meeting or whatever.

Of course, this leaves the door open for Catholic prayers and Mormon prayers and Muslim prayers and even prayers to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I can’t help but suspect this isn’t really what they had in mind, but law is law. As the saying goes, you make your bed and then you sleep in it.

22 comments

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  1. 1
    Gregory in Seattle

    “[A] proposed amendment to the state constitution protecting the right to pray in public places.” And Jesus is NOT pleased.

    And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

    Matthew 6:5-6

    1. 1.1
      d cwilson

      Now you’re just being silly. Everyone knows that’s one of the passages that Jesus said with his fingers crossed. You know, like the ones about feeding the hungry, clothing, the poor, and healing the sick.

      It was never meant to be taken literally. Not like the stuff about stoning gays.

  2. 2
    Burrahobbit

    Did jesus say anything about stoning gays. I thought that was an OT prohibition.

    1. 2.1
      Achrachno

      What he said, while plainly understood by the faithful, escaped being recorded.

  3. 3
    plutosdad

    I think probably this is so public servants can pray during ceremonies and say “I’m just praying as a private citizen”. They will have times where you can say anything you want (like a speech, but not a speech).

    I think this is also key, from the article:
    “Under the Missouri amendment, students could not “be compelled to perform or participate in any education assignments or presentations” that violate their religious beliefs.”

    Meaning parents could take kids out of any social studies or history or science class they don’t like, claiming it is against their religion.

    1. 3.1
      OldEd

      …or MATH classes. After all, doesn’t the Holy Babble imply that pi is equal to 3? Therefore, that nonsense about pi being equal to 3.14159… is obviously against my religion…

      1. Deacon Duncan

        Well, I appreciate your comment, but this one needs debunking I think. I’ve heard this claim used on the basis of the fact that there were basins or some such in the Temple that were 10 cubits across and 30 cubits in circumference. I think the phrase “30 cubits” is reasonable language to use when describing things in (pardon the expression) round numbers. It doesn’t say that the diameter is exactly 10.0 cubits and the circumference is exactly 30.0 cubits. The language itself didn’t allow expressions that precise, nor is the cubit itself that precise a measurement. I think in this case we shouldn’t criticize the text for failing to adhere to strict, modern standards of accuracy.

      2. Achrachno

        But THEY claim it’s 100% accurate and eternal. I’m not giving them any escape routes until they admit it’s neither. Then they can have as big a helping of “close enough for who it’s for” they like.

      3. Deacon Duncan

        No, sorry, I can’t buy that one. Normal rules of grammatical interpretation apply. When Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of snakes and vipers, nobody is insisting that he could only have meant that they were literally legless reptiles. There are much more substantive objections to be raised about what the Bible says.

        If the Bible said that God, in His infinite wisdom, had decreed that the circumference of a circle be exactly three times its diameter, as some kind of sign of the Trinity, then yes, you’d have a perfectly legitimate point, because at that point the Bible would be making an explicit statement that contradicted math, and that would prove the divine revelation false. But rounding off 31.4 cubits to the nearest multiple of 10 isn’t worth quibbling over. It’s never going to be an exact measurement anyway, because pi is infinite. You might as well argue that we should throw out mathematics because they CLAIM it’s accurate, and yet they can never tell us what the exact circumference is for a circle 10 units in diameter.

      4. mikespeir

        This is one of those that annoys me, too. We don’t need to be captious. There are plenty of real problems with the Bible.

      5. Forbidden Snowflake

        I think the phrase “30 cubits” is reasonable language to use when describing things in (pardon the expression) round numbers.[...]The language itself didn’t allow expressions that precise, nor is the cubit itself that precise a measurement.

        From the same chapter (1Kings 7, incidentally):

        31 And the mouth of it within the chapiter and above was a cubit: but the mouth thereof was round after the work of the base, a cubit and an half

        32 And under the borders were four wheels; and the axletrees of the wheels were joined to the base: and the height of a wheel was a cubit and half a cubit.

        35 And in the top of the base was there a round compass of half a cubit high: and on the top of the base the ledges thereof and the borders thereof were of the same.

        The language quite obviously IS precise enough at least for half-cubits. Of course, this doesn’t prove that the pi figure isn’t merely a reasonable rounding down (rounding 1.5 cubits to 2 would result in a much larger %error than rounding 10pi cubits to 30, after all), but the reason for the inaccuracy is not lack of linguistic tools needed to express fractions.

        Myself, I would think that the existence of a long, boring and stupid chapter dedicated to the measurements of a building is reason enough to question divine authorship, and the pi problem is just crumbs.

      6. Deacon Duncan

        Heh, I could go along with that.

      7. M can help you with that.

        …or MATH classes.

        Some of the right-wing Christians have doctrinal objections to whole branches of mathematics. The A Beka homeschooling scheme (which IIRC is one of the most popular Christian “education” businesses around) insists on not teaching set theory. Because in some readings of set theory it’s hard to get around reading mathematical systems as models rather than as absolute received divine wisdom.

        No, seriously.

    2. 3.2
      Johnny Vector

      Yeah, this part is the real kicker. They’ll be able to opt out of pretty much any biology then. Let the dumbing continue.

      Small mouse. Giant cat paw. Caption: Missouri: Doomed! (That’s not dickish, is it?)

  4. 4
    jaranath

    Yeah…I’m not so sure about this one. On the one hand, fundagelical rhetoric has convinced most of their base and some of the general public that it really is illegal to pray in public, confusing (deliberately or accidentally, depending on who’s talking) prohibitions on state support with absolute prohibitions on citizens in schools or on city streets. An amendment like this could theoretically help people understand the difference.

    But on the other hand, fundagelical rhetoric is often doublespeak that says “prayer in public” when it very much means state-supported prayer…that’s where a lot of the confusion comes from in the first place. I’d bet good money a number of the amendment’s supporters think this will make school prayer, city council meeting prayer, etc., legal. Or at least think they can twist it into meaning that.

    In the end I suspect this is an empty political shell game designed to assuage separation advocates while letting the base think they’ve taken another step toward theocracy. And when if the courts interpret the amendment appropriately, they can blame activist judges and the Evil Others.

  5. 5
    Steve

    Every religious tradition that I can recall holds that a prayer is no less effective if it’s composed in the privacy of one’s own skull. The Abrahamic God, in particular, is supposed to be aware or our every thought, which would make public prayer as unnecessary as it is (actually) futile. The only purpose of “right to pray” legislation is to shield religious bullies who, hearing something that they disagree with at a public assembly, get up and lead their minions in a loud chant intended to obstruct proceedings. The presence of language in the law intended to prevent this is irrelevant; we can expect selective enforcement, just like way the First Amendment runs off and hides when “So help me God” is inserted into every official oath. I’d like to see what would happen if a witness at some trial or Congressional hearing requested a copy of the Constitution instead of the Bible.

    1. 5.1
      Deacon Duncan

      I think practical experience also shows that prayers are no less effective when they’re purely mental. :)

      1. Burrahobbit

        Or virtual. Or non existent….

  6. 6
    mikespeir

    Maybe there should be an amendment saying the constitution has to be upheld and then another one saying that amendment should be enforced and then another one….

  7. 7
    mxh

    This is like those “Sharia Law” bills. It’s only there to get votes.

  8. 8
    Mark

    Actually, there’s more to this legislation than what’s being advertised, and it’s the parts that aren’t being advertised that are a problem. The Friendly Atheist blog has the details here

  9. 9
    Tippy

    Propsition 3 on the Texas Republican Primary ballot is similar.

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