January 12, 2013
By Hemant Mehta
Virginia State Senator Bill Stanley (R-Glade Hill) is one of those people who wrongly believes Christians are under attack because everyone isn’t forced to pray to his God in public schools and during government functions.
State Senator Bill Stanley
So he’s come up with a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist: Create a constitutional amendment that would allow Christians to pray in public spaces:
“We have to return prayer to the public forum,” Stanley said. “It’s long overdue.”
“It’s time we (Virginia) take a stand and qualify in our Constitution that religious liberty is one of the most sacred of all our rights,” he added. “We have to protect the religious liberty intended by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
“I have been watching the assault on people’s right to pray where they see fit,” Stanley said, “and the assault on religion by the government in order to remove any higher authority than itself from the public view.”
Stanley said the separation of church and state has been misconstrued by the courts and government to remove God from the public forum.
“That is part of the moral decay in this country,” he said.
Of course, religious liberty is already protected… in fact, those of us who aren’t Christian have to keep fighting to remind people (like Stanley) of that fact. Government officials also have a right to pray — what they can’t do is promote Christianity while on duty. They can pray in their offices, at home, before a meeting begins, and during a whole host of other times.
Senate Joint Resolution No. 287 reads in part:
… The Commonwealth 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 Commonwealth 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 religious beliefs; that the Commonwealth 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, or justify practices inconsistent with the good order, peace or safety of the Commonwealth or with the rights of others.
So what’s the *real* intent of this bill?
It turns out the amendment would allow Christian invocations during government meetings.
It could also theoretically allow students to opt out of learning about evolution if it contradicted their religious beliefs.
The ballot summary about the amendment says it would ensure right of citizens to express their religious beliefs without infringement and students the right to pray in schools. The actual words the State Legislature approved in the amendment, however, would do more.
They would allow students who believe in creationism, for example, to opt out of assignments on evolution: “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” This language would almost certainly lead to litigation about who controls the curriculum in public schools.
That’s what Stanley is really up to. This isn’t about protecting religious freedom because he knows damn well that freedom is already protected. He’s just trying a backdoor approach to “protect” students from the scourge of evolution.
Don’t let him get away with it.
If you live in Virginia, contact your local officials and tell them to stop this bill before it proceeds any further.
(Thanks to Scott for the link)