Virginians, contact your state legislators to ask them to oppose SJ 287, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that is yet another semi-stealthy attempt to justify government support for Christianity.
Hemant Mehta over at the Friendly Atheist has the rundown. In short, state senator Bill Stanley (R-Glade Hill) is convinced that not allowing people to pray in public is the root of “moral decay.” Never mind that people are allowed to pray in public – yes, including at schools – in exactly the way his proposed amendment purports to “clarify.” He’s convinced that taking God out of school and government meetings is why things are going to hell in a handbasket, so by golly, he’s going to clarify that right. And that’ll fix things.
At best, this language will be meaningless, because the rights “clarified” are already protected. At worst, this language will be interpreted, as he intends it to be, to support and defend sectarian government prayer and to encourage established prayer in schools, which people who are interested in real religious freedom (you know, the kind that applies to everyone, not just Christians intent on pushing their religion on others) will have to fight in court, which will cost Virginia money and be pointless.
The other potential land mine hidden in this text is a provision “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his religious beliefs.” Three guesses what that is all about, and the first two don’t count: evolution. Allowing kids to opt out of lessons because they don’t believe in them is a terrible idea. Evolution is central to modern biology, and you can’t get a meaningful science education at the high school level without facing the science of evolution.
(By the way, don’t think this will stop at the science classroom. A Fox News contributor recently raised red flags about the distributive property in mathematics. He was concerned that this was Marxism in disguise, you know, redistributing the wealth. It’s actually just a basic feature of how arithmetic and algebra work, but when did facts ever stop these folks?)
This is what I wrote to my legislators. If you’re not clergy, you might take that line out.
I urge you to oppose SJ 287 because this proposed amendment to Virginia’s constitution does not actually do more to protect religious freedom; on the contrary, it is an attempt to try to inappropriately insert Christianity into government and school business.
The amendment purports to protect the right to pray; this right is already protected by our national and state constitutions and established case law. The amendment also proposes “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his religious beliefs,” a suggestion which could seriously undermine Virginia’s efforts to educate its population in science as necessary in order to succeed in today’s economy.
As a clergyperson, I take freedom of religion extremely seriously. This bill is not a genuine attempt to ensure freedom of religion to all in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s original statute; it is an attempt to justify government promotion of Christianity, and that is the opposite of freedom of religion. Please vote against this proposed amendment at every opportunity.