08/01/2012 08:28 am ET Updated Oct 01, 2012

Missouri Amendment 2: A Strike Against Separation of Church and State

Dear Missourians,

A recent poll published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that an overwhelming majority of you will vote in favor of the passage of Amendment 2, a ballot initiative that will appear on the primary ballots on Tuesday, August 7.

To be exact, the numbers were 82 percent that would vote in favor of the bill, and 14 percent who would vote against it. My jaw dropped. After reading the language that would be added to the Missouri State Constitution if the bill were to be passed, I could not believe that anyone who valued the separation of church and state, which, according to the July 2011 poll by the First Amendment Center, is a mammoth 67 percent of this nation, would vote for this bill.

That is, until I read how misleading the ballot initiative itself is. Missourians will walk into polling stations all over the state on August 7 and read the following proposal:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure:
That the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed;
That school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools; and That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
It is estimated this proposal will result in little or no costs or savings for state and local governmental entities.

Fair Ballot Language:
A "yes" vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to provide that neither the state nor political subdivisions shall establish any official religion. The amendment further provides that a citizen's right to express their religious beliefs regardless of their religion shall not be infringed and that the right to worship includes prayer in private or public settings, on government premises, on public property, and in all public schools. The amendment also requires public schools to display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. A "no" vote will not change the current constitutional provisions protecting freedom of religion.
If passed, this measure will have no impact on taxes.

When read, it sounds as if anyone who were to vote against the bill would be opposed to conserving their individual liberties. Such an action would be utterly un-American! It is no surprise that the average Missourian, with faith in the appearance of fair language on a primary ballot, would be in favor of such an initiative.

This is why it is important to be an informed voter.

If passed, Amendment 2 will add nearly 400 words of language to Section 5 of the Missouri State Constitution, which is the equivalent to the religious freedom clauses of the United States Constitution within the First Amendment.

It is evident to any Missourian with a common knowledge of the U.S. Constitution that the first two sentences of the initiative are already explicitly protected under current law. Students have always had the right to pray in school, and no citizen's right to religious freedom can be infringed. Clearly, legislators have neither the will nor the time to be redundant-- so what would this initiative really do?

Well, first and foremost, it will change how students involve themselves in public schools. According to the language that would be added to the Missouri State Constitution, if this bill is passed, "no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs."

The last thing that this country needs as it falls behind its peers in its quality of public education is an opportunity for students to excuse themselves from learning important lessons.

Or more troubling, the language would read that "students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work." As I have certainly demonstrated before, I am fervently opposed to discrimination of any kind, but it does not take much inferring to envision the opportunity this will afford students to proselytize to their peers amidst class discussions or presentations.

How would you feel if you were a biology teacher who was threatened to be sued for givng a child who claimed evolution to be a hoax and creationism the only viable explanation for mankind's development an "F" for failing to understand a scientific concept? Such would be a likely scenario if this initiative were passed.

But most misleading about this whole debacle is the promise made to Missourians that this will not cost them their dollars. In fact, by allowing "ministers, clergy persons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General Assembly or governing bodies," Missouri is inviting a barrage of civil lawsuits to be brought against them in court. Sectarian prayer in legislative or otherwise governmentally-sponsored sessions is an explicit state endorsement of religion, and this clause would certainly invite members of the clergy to move away from expressing prayer in ceremonial deist fashion -- a legal occurence -- and into such murky waters.

Amendment 2 is no safeguard to ensure the continuity of religious freedom in Missouri. It is a clear attempt by state legislators to allow for religion to find a greater niche in government and public education to an extent that is inappropriate in this country.

Don't let them fool you.

Your Concerned High School Student,

Noah Fitzgerel