Prayer Takes Precedence Over Science?

A Bill of Rights amendment reaffirming the right to pray could have negative consequences for the teaching of evolution.

Hayley Dunning
Aug 14, 2012

Last week (August 7), Missouri voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that at first glance looks harmless, but has some people worried it provides ammunition for undermining the teaching of evolution in public schools.

The amendment reaffirms the rights of citizens to express their religious beliefs, and specifically highlights the right of school children to "pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools." This right to freedom of religion is already protected under the Bill of Rights, and science education experts like Joshua Rosenau, the programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, are worried the vague wording of the new amendment could allow many actions that disrupt students' learning of evolution.

In particular, Rosneau told ScienceInsider, the clause "that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs"...

The amendment does not provide an alternative to evolution lessons, though, so students who choose to skip those sections will have to face the academic consequences. Because of this, the Missouri Catholic Conference executive director, Mike Hoey, who supported the amendment, told ScienceInsider he doesn't think many students will opt out.

Missouri teachers are concerned, though, as many already face challenges from students who resist learning the concepts of evolution. While middle school teacher Susan German, president of the Science Teachers of Missouri (STOM), explains to students that science is not a belief system, and she is not trying to challenge their beliefs, many teachers in the state are not so confident, waiting for advice from the state education department before taking action in their own classrooms.

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