Missouri Passes Bad Religious Amendment


I’m sure you know by now that Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum on Tuesday that purported to supporta “right to pray” — a right that is already protected, of course. But the law is a trojan horse that will inevitably lead to serious lawsuits. Here’s the relevant text of the amendment:

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; 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; 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; that the state shall ensure public school students their right to free exercise of religious expression without interference, as long as such prayer or other expression is private and voluntary, whether individually or corporately, and in a manner that is not disruptive and as long as such prayers or expressions abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free speech under similar circumstances; and, to emphasize the right to free exercise of religious expression, 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; but this section shall not be construed to expand the rights of prisoners in state or local custody beyond those afforded by the laws of the United States, excuse acts of licentiousness, nor to justify practices inconsistent with the good order, peace or safety of the state, or with the rights of others.

Most of this is redundant, stuff that is already legally protected. But the portion in bold is a very serious problem. It will lead inevitably to parents claiming that their kids shouldn’t have to study anything that conflicts with their religious views like, oh I don’t know, evolution. Or the big bang. Hell, there’s no limit to what kind of exceptions might have to be made here. There is virtually nothing taught in school that doesn’t conflict with someone’s religious views.

And you just wait until the first Muslim student demands that they be excused from learning about something because it conflicts with their religion. The very same people crying about religious freedom now will be yelling, “How dare those Muslims come here and refuse to learn our culture! They must be terrorists!” Mark my words, that single provision of this law is going to create a judicial boondoggle.

Comments

  1. daved says

    I can’t wait for the first case where math students refuse to study set theory because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. (This is an actual issue, mostly involving certain infinite sets being “larger” than other infinite sets. That’s an over-simplification, but it really does come up.)

  2. Mr Ed says

    That all men and women have a natural and indefeasible right to worship… according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no human authority can control or interfere with the rights of conscience; … 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 … nor shall a citizen’s right to pray or express his or her religious beliefs be infringed;

    Rastafarians use pot as part of their religion, does this protect that too?

  3. Alverant says

    Can they question what a legitimate religious belief is? Because if not, I see a lot of students claiming gym is against their religion. “Perform academic assignments” would include following school rules like obeying teachers and not punching other students of different faiths if they can use their religion to justify it.

  4. d cwilson says

    Missouri, brace yourself for a teen pregnancy rate on par with Texas as parents tell their kids to opt out of sex education.

  5. drr1 says

    And to show just how serious Missouri is about religious freedom, this amendment comes in the same week that a Joplin mosque was burned to the ground.

    Apparently this means you’re free to choose any Christian religion you like. Religious freedom, indeed.

  6. Eric Ressner says

    Can I “like” drr1 @6? For sure, a jarring juxtaposition.

    My wife and I, Misery-ans both, cast two of only 160,000 votes against Amendment 2, and it still passed by a massive five-to-one margin. We were beat before we started!

    I understand that the democratic governor and secretary-of-state put this measure on the August primary ballot rather than the November general election because they knew it would pull in the crazies, and they didn’t want to do anything to boost crazy turnout for the general. There might have been a better chance to defeat this monstrosity in November, but given the margin this week, it’s unlikely to have made enough of a difference.

  7. gorgias says

    To be fair to my fellow Missourians, the wording on the ballot did a pretty crafty job hiding how the amendment was being altered, and they made sure to put it in during the primary, in which there were a lot more serious contenders for office on the Republican ballot than the Democratic one. Thus you have many conservative religious voters going in and seeing absolutely nothing wrong with voting what appears to be a reaffirmation of religious liberties. Only those who were critically thinking would wonder why we’re voting on an amendment which is already covered by both state and federal constitutions.

    So, yeah, when Muslims use this bill to exempt themselves from homework assignments, I guarantee there’s a lot of Christians who will start bellowing about the “encroachment of Sharia law” without ever realizing that they themselves voted on it. Moral of the story: don’t vote on things that you do know anything about.

  8. raven says

    Rastafarians use pot as part of their religion, does this protect that too?

    It could.

    There are lots of drug using churches around.

    Some use cannabis, peyote, psylocibin mushrooms, and ayahuasca (DMT rainforest drug).

    A few have gone to court and had their right to get take drugs affirmed as a religious right. A few have lost in court. The whole issue right now is up in the air, legally.

    I could see though that psychoactive drugs would fix one of the churches’ biggest problems,….boredom.

  9. raven says

    Missouri, brace yourself for a teen pregnancy rate on par with Texas as parents tell their kids to opt out of sex education.

    I’m sure they already can.

    When I had comprehensive sex ed, back in the dark ages, we had to opt in with a form from our parents.

    Not a single kid failed to opt in. I suspect the vast majority of parents were relieved not to have to do it. Sex back then was a taboo and uncomfortable subject.

  10. bbgunn says

    Does that mean teachers can’t mark test questions ‘incorrect’ when fundie kids use a ‘babble’ quote instead of text book reference for an answer (or don’t supply an answer) to test questions that oppose their ‘fundged up’ religious views?

  11. MikeMa says

    Missouri: Struggling no more in their efforts to race TN, KY, LA and AL to the bottom of the education pile. Well done MO. Your students will now have a chance be considered some of the dumbest in the country. High tech companies take note.

  12. RickR says

    That all men and women have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences only in ways in which we approve

    Obvious, I know, but still needs to be fixed for accuracy every damn time. *sigh*

  13. Gregory in Seattle says

    I anticipate much fun when followers of Santeria assert their right to pray. And Wiccans. And Asatruar. And Satanists.

    And if “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs,” I suppose that atheist students will be permitted — encouraged, even — to decline participation in school prayers and refuse to do school work related to creationism and other religion-based pseudoscience. Right?

  14. baal says

    right to pray individually or corporately

    What is right to pray as a corporation? I guess they could be meaning the archaic usage of “as a group of people” but it’s ambiguous.

    Given the clause preceding the quoted part, I suspect this is exact license to have school principals lead prayer on the school’s PA system.

    I somewhat wish liberals or atheists in legislatures would pass bills that are expensive and time consuming for the xtians to blunt or remove.

  15. John Hinkle says

    …that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs;

    Since we can’t force our religion on you, you can’t force your evolution on us.

    [stomps foot]

    So there!

  16. inmysocks says

    So when I start a branch of Discordianism that calls English literature heresy than anyone who is a member of my sect can opt out of all English classes? This could very easily mean that any requirements for graduation are meaningless if someone actually wanted to take advantage of it.
    I will have to look into if it gives any standards for what religious beliefs are. I am sad that in order to have fun with this a parent would have to potentially harm their children’s education.

  17. davem says

    This is an actual issue, mostly involving certain infinite sets being “larger” than other infinite sets

    Really? I can see that the infinite set of even numbers is less than the infinite set of all numbers; I can’t see how this is a religious problem to anybody. Please explain!

  18. Alverant says

    #18
    Actually a set of even numbers is the same as a set of all whole numbers. In set theory being equal means there is a 1:1 relationship between every member of the set. So one set has (1,2,3,4,5,…) and the other set has (1×2,2×2,3×2,4×2,5×2,…) so you still have that 1:1 ratio making them equal.

  19. slc1 says

    Re Alverant @ #20

    It would be better to say that the set of all rational numbers is greater then the set of all whole numbers. For instance, there are an infinite number of rational numbers between every pair of whole numbers.

  20. Peter B says

    >no human authority can control or interfere with the rights of conscience

    So I assume that pharmacists can opt out of dispensing birth control or (horrors!) Plan B.

    >the state shall not coerce any person to participate in any prayer or other religious activity

    What about graduation prayer to a captive audience? Must one opt out of graduation to avoid having to participate in prayer?

    What happens when a campus atheist group wishes official recognition? My guess, the Secular Student Alliance will point out that their “right to pray” amendment – despite its references to “Almighty God” – does not supercede the US constitution.

    An atheist’s club should have the same rights as a Baptist club or a more inclusive inter denominational Christian club. What happens when both the Mormons (fundies call them a cult) and the Muslims (oh no, not them!) try to start clubs. Fun times….

  21. says

    I never vote in primaries, but this one got me to the polls. The way it was presented on the ballot was very deceptive. Thanks to JT I knew about the actual wording of it, but I also knew it was forgone conclusion. I like Kansas City, but I am starting to seriously dislike Missouri.

  22. says

    drr1 “Apparently this means you’re free to choose any Christian religion you like. Religious freedom, indeed.”
    “Do you have religious freedom here?”
    “Sure do. We got both kinds; Baptist and Pentecostal.”

    raven “Not a single kid failed to opt in. I suspect the vast majority of parents were relieved not to have to do it. Sex back then was a taboo and uncomfortable subject.”
    Times change. Now it’s an uncomfortable and taboo subject.

    dmcclean “The bijection between naturals and rationals is less obvious than the bijection between naturals and even naturals, but it does exist.”
    That’s disgusting. There could be children reading this!

  23. maddog1129 says

    The statute singles out protection only for religionists to practice a belief in “Almighty God.” That definitely prefers one kind of religion over all/any others. The statute is likely unconstitutional on its face.

  24. Hatchetfish says

    @ Alverant, #3: “Legitimate”==”Fundamentalist Christian Patriarchy”
    Possibly christerism generally, if they’re in a good mood, and people are watching.

  25. slc1 says

    Re dmcclean @ #25

    Countability has nothing to do with anything. As I understand it, two sets have the same number of elements if each element in one can be corresponded to each element in the other, e.g. there is a 1 to 1 correspondence between the elements of the sets.

    Now consider the correspondence between the rationals between i and i+1, i being any integer and the integers. There is, indeed a 1 to 1 correspondence between them and the integers. However, this uses up all the integers, so that there are none left to correspond to the rationals between i+1 and i+2, i+2 and i+3, etc. Therefore the set of rationals is larger then the set of integers.

  26. chrisdevries says

    No, that would be a very bad thing, and give credence to the usually baseless claims of Christian “persecution”. Just like politicians in Boston and Chicago trying to ban Chick-fil-ay or whatever it was called. Not a good idea if we want to ensure that regardless of how anti-theistic our rhetoric, we still remain committed to secularism. Granted, many fundies will see any attempt to ensure that nobody’s belief is treated better or worse by government institutions, as persecution (because their faith leads them to actually want to have what amounts to illegal influence in government); still, to remain fully on the right side of history we need to ensure that we always play fair.

    Unfortunately, this law enshrines things that are already deeply enshrined in both federal and state Constitutions; indeed, it goes altogether overboard, not only in its insistence that nobody has to learn anything that conflicts with their religion (similar to a bill that passed in the Texas of the North, Alberta), but in citing “Almighty God” has discounted the wide variety of mono- and polytheisms that worship something other than a single Almighty God. My guess is that this bill will be challenged before the year is up, and will have a very hard time in state and federal courts, because there is no way that, as written, it does anything other than increase the privilege afforded to the already privileged religious right. When used to justify behavior that grants privilege to other groups however, we will see the true colors of the proponents, and their real intentions with this bill.

  27. dmcclean says

    slc1

    You’re not correct about that. Bijection means “each element in one can be corresponded to each element in the other” and this can be done between the naturals and the rationals.

    One way to understand the flaw in your intuition about the dense nature of the rationals meaning that there are more rationals than naturals is this: you can’t “use up” all the integers. Hilbert’s paradox of the Grand Hotel can help in seeing how. Imagine a hotel with one room for each natural number. It’s full. All the naturals are “used up”, right? But if someone else comes, you can get on the PA and say “everyone, if you are in room n, move to room n+1″ and give room 0 to the newcomer. If a countable infinity of other people come you can get on the PA and say “everyone, if you are in room n, move to room 2*n” and give all the odd numbered rooms to the newcomers. See how the “used up” concept doesn’t work?

    If you want to see a constructive proof of this, in other words an actual function which matches every natural to exactly one rational and vice versa, check out this paper which exhibits a fairly easy to understand implementation in the functional programming language Haskell. If you just want an overview, see figure 2 on page 5 which is the first few levels of the Calkin-Wilf tree.

    I know it feels like you must be right about this, but it turns out that when you work out the technical details you are wrong. I agree that it is a deeply counter-intuitive concept at first. Stick with it and keep an open mind, it will ‘click’.

  28. slc1 says

    Re dmcclean

    Lets put it another way. There is a 1 to 1 correspondence between the rationals in the interval i to i+1 and the integers. Therefore, neither set is larger then the other. Now consider the interval i+1 to i+2. There is a 1 to 1 correspondence between the rationals in that interval and the integers. Therefore, each integer corresponds to 2 rationals, one in each interval. Now let i to to infinity. We now have an infinite number of rationals that correspond to each integer, which means that the set of rationals is larger then the set of integers. This is the same argument as the notion that the number of points in a square plane of edge 1 is greater then the number of points in any one of the edges (or in all 4 for that matter)

  29. dmcclean says

    slc1:

    The reason why your argument doesn’t work is because an infinite set can be the same “size” as a proper subset of the same infinite set. Counter-intuitive, right? But true. There are just as many naturals as there are even naturals, as a very simple bijection will show you. The rationals can be the same “size” as the rationals between an integer i and i+1, and in fact they are the same size.

    Please, read one of the several reference works or introductions I have linked you too. If you still disagree, read again. The fact that there is a bijection between the rationals and the naturals (heck, I even linked you to an explicit implementation of that bijection in handy easy-to-run computer format with explanations) is very well known.

    Again, I know it seems counter-intuitive, but it does make sense if you study it for a while, and credentialed experts in the field are in unanimous agreement. Take a break from trying to disprove it and read up on why this is the case, then you can decide if you want to embark on a mission of disproving a century of established math.

    (I prepared a version of this comment that included a bunch more links to sources, but it was flagged for moderation presumably because it looked like link spam. Suffice to say that googling “rationals countable” will get you page after page of proofs, textbooks, tutorials, and so forth.)

  30. Chiroptera says

    dmcclean, #33: The reason why your argument doesn’t work is because an infinite set can be the same “size” as a proper subset of the same infinite set.

    In fact, that is Dedekind’s definition of an infinite set, and I think the most commonly used.

    Just throwin’ in my 2 cents, showin’ off the ol’ math degree.

  31. thisisaturingtest says

    @#2, Mr Ed:

    Rastafarians use pot as part of their religion, does this protect that too?

    I would guess no, from this, at the end:

    …this section shall not be construed to… excuse acts of licentiousness, nor to justify practices inconsistent with the good order, peace or safety of the state, or with the rights of others.

    This sounds like a convenient catch-all to still exclude anything they don’t approve. They could even use this to exclude Muslim worship (the victim-blame game).

    @#7, Eric Ressner- if I had to guess, I’d say the reason the thing passed so overwhelmingly is because of the redundancy Ed pointed out- and I’m sure the redudancy is deliberate, because who’s going to worry about the 10% some folks disagree with, when it’s so well disguised by the other 90%, stuff so obvious no-one would dispute it, or vote against it? There’s also the fact, as others here have said, that the summary provided voters didn’t mention the objectionable 10%, so I’m sure a lot of voters had no real idea of what they were voting for.

  32. slc1 says

    Re dmcclean

    I am afraid that we are not going to agree on this point so I suggest that we agree to disagree, hopefully not disagreeable.

  33. dmcclean says

    Sure, I’m fine with that. I hope I’m not being disagreeable. I actually realize it’s off topic, it’s just something that I have seen come up before and unless it’s countered the uninitiated can get the wrong impression because it does seem so obvious. It seems like a “teachable moment” for interested passers-by.

    One last try, because I came up with a more specific counterexample to why your argument from density is wrong which I hope is approachable without much background beyond some familiarity with the fundamental theorem of arithmetic and the concept of a prime number.

    You said, adding names for each step:

    (A) There is a 1 to 1 correspondence between the rationals in the interval i to i+1 and the integers. (B) Therefore, neither set is larger then the other. (C) Now consider the interval i+1 to i+2. (D) There is a 1 to 1 correspondence between the rationals in that interval and the integers. (E) Therefore, each integer corresponds to 2 rationals, one in each interval. (F) Now let i to to infinity. We now have an infinite number of rationals that correspond to each integer, which means that the set of rationals is larger then the set of integers.

    The same line of argument can be used to (incorrectly attempt to) prove that the set of naturals is larger than the set of naturals.

    To wit:
    (A) There is a 1 to 1 correspondence between the [naturals] and the [naturals whose least prime factor is 2].

    (B) Therefore, neither set is larger than the other.

    (C) Now consider the [naturals whose least prime factor is 3].

    (D) There is a 1 to 1 correspondence between the [naturals whose least prime factor is 3] and the [naturals].

    (E) (in which we go off the rails) Therefore, each [natural] corresponds to 2 [naturals], one in each [subset of the naturals on the basis of partitioning by least prime factor].

    (F) Now let i to to infinity. We now have an infinite number of [naturals] that correspond to each [natural], which means that the set of [naturals] is larger then the set of [naturals]. This is possible because there are a countably infinite number of prime numbers, and because of the uniqueness of prime factorizations. (Subject to some special handling of 0, but if you don’t want to do that you can instead replace every reference to the naturals in this argument with a reference to the counting numbers instead, thereby excluding 0, and you will still reach the reductio ad absurdam.)

    See how this argument fails while being exactly parallel to your own? It’s because even though there are a countably infinite number of naturals whose least prime factor is any given prime number, and even though there is a countably infinite number of prime numbers, the number of naturals as a whole remains countably infinite.

    There are much simpler ways to prove the countability of the rationals, I only offer this rebuttal because you seem focused on your interval-based argument to the exclusion of other explanations.

  34. Pieter B, FCD says

    22. Peter B says:

    Talk about doing a double take… I know my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I was sure I hadn’t posted in this thread.

    And I was right.

  35. tomh says

    chrisdevries wrote:

    …in citing “Almighty God” has discounted the wide variety of mono- and polytheisms that worship something other than a single Almighty God. My guess is that this bill will be challenged before the year is up, and will have a very hard time in state and federal courts…

    Maybe, maybe not. Justice Scalia has already written, in his dissent in McCreary County v. ACLU, “… the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.”

    By the time this reaches the Supreme Court, a President Romney may well have added a few appointees to the Scalia wing of the Court and the Amendment could well be upheld. Once upheld I could see other states passing similar measures.

  36. says

    The bolded passage results from a legitimate concern. There have been instances where teachers, in an effort to promote understanding of different cultures, have had students participate in mock religious ceremonies (the example I’m reminded of is the one a year or two ago when the teacher had the students recite Muslim prayers). This is the flip side of the “academic freedom” coin, where teachers were improperly marking students down simply because their homework contained religious content (for example, in a “What I Did This Summer” essay, failing a paper because the student wrote about summer bible camp).

    This is not to say that the fundies won’t try to use these amendments to avoid things like evolution and sex ed. However, it is worthwhile to note that there is a legitimate concern, so we can work to prevent these issues from being exploited in the future.

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