Last week was an active one for religious bigots.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
On Sunday a gunman slaughtered six Sikhs who were going to their house of worship in the outskirts of Milwaukee. The gunman killed himself, so we may never learn the full story of his motivation. But it is clear he considered his victims religion alien to his idea of America, and its possible he was unaware of the distinction between Sikhism and Islam.
The next day, a Muslim mosque near Joplin, Mo., burned to the ground. The fire has been labeled suspicious. Federal agents are swarming the area. A July 4 fire at the same mosque had already been determined to be arson.
It will surprise no one if the culprit turns out to be a nutcase with a hatred of non-Christians and non-Caucasians.
It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss the nativist paranoia behind this terrorism as an aberration. For it echoes through mainstream politics and culture, with right-wing media personalities and elected officials promoting the idea that Christians are somehow victims of religious discrimination.
Consider the constitutional amendment Missourians overwhelmingly approved at the polls the day after the mosque fire. It purported to secure the right to pray. It passed by a 5-to-1 margin, and no wonder: Its most troubling passages were not spelled out on the ballot.
Yes, the ballot did stipulate that the amendment would guarantee the uncontroversial and already secure right of Missourians to assert their religious beliefs. It also made clear that the amendment would establish the right of schoolchildren to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools.
But other language in the amendment was not included in the ballot, such as: No student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs. Or of the language in the amendment protecting the right of elected officials to pray on public property.
Why is such an amendment necessary in a state where 80 percent of all citizens are avowed Christians, where churches are prominent institutions and where public displays of piety are the stock in trade of politicians?
Why, while the Muslims of Joplin picked through rubble to salvage remnants of the Quran from their burned mosque, and while the Sikhs of Milwaukee mourned their dead, were the Christians of Missouri voting to protect the right to pray in this way?
Most voters who approved the Missouri prayer amendment likely assumed the proposal sounded innocuous, knowing that their religious freedoms are already guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
But when pressed by media, many backers of the amendment spoke about ensuring that school children have the right to refuse learning about Buddha, or Islam, or being somehow indoctrinated by learning about how Muslims pray.
And there the true intent is discovered. This amendment is for conservative Christians who are offended that they might have to acknowledge that not everyone in the world is Christian.
As I write this, I am wearing a white gold cross necklace. There is a St. Christophers medal mixed in with the paperclips in a dish on my desk. A few biblical quotes are tacked up, too. I can pause anytime I want and say a few words of prayer. I am not under siege. My church will be standing on Sunday.
The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit arguing that a section of the amendment (also omitted from the ballot language) does not extend its protections to all citizens equally. (To wit, 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.)
Classic. Its always a red flag when a majority group, falsely claiming discrimination against itself, lays the groundwork for tolerating discrimination against another group.
So the question has to be asked: Did the Christian conservatives pushing this amendment offer prayers on behalf of the suffering Muslims in Joplin or the Sikhs in Wisconsin?
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.