Bill Carrico, a state legislator in Virginia, has introduced HJ724, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that is designed to protect religious freedom, particular one’s right to express religious those religious views or participate in religious activity on public property. The exact paragraph that would be added to Section 16 of Article 1 is as follows:
To secure further the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience, neither the Commonwealth nor its political subdivisions shall establish any official religion, but the people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including public schools, shall not be infringed.
Now personally, I don’t care if this resolution ultimately passes or not. However, it does strike me as needless and repetitive, which is apparently the same criticism the ACLU made of this legislation when it was originally introduced in 2005, according to the Galax Gazette. Truth be told, there is already legislation to uphold individual’s rights to participate in non-mandatory religious activity on public property. This right has been backed up in several court cases, as well. As such, one must wonder what good adding yet another piece of legislation to protect an already-protected right will do.
Of course, one must wonder about Carrico’s reasons for reintroducing this bill, and whether it will accomplish what he proposes. Carrico explained the need for the bill to the Galax Gazette as follows:
The amendment is needed to stem challenges against things like the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and “in God we trust” on U.S. currency, Carrico said of his renewed efforts.
Now personally, I find the argument over the phrase “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency to be rather silly. But I want to specifically look at the matter of the pledge. The challenge to the pledge that I have seen is that students in some schools are expected to recite the pledge every morning. Some people, particularly atheists, have objected to this practice, as it requires them or their children to recite a pledge which currently includes a phrase affirming a certain belief aboout not a Supreme Being’s existence, but said Being’s relationship with reguards to our country. The challenge is that being required to say this pledge forces students to verbally endorse a particular religious belief — or even any religious belief.
This is where Carrico’s proposed amendment will not sufficiently address that challenge. Notice the last statement in the resolution’s summary:
The current constitutional provision parallels the federal free exercise and establishment clauses of the U.S. Constitution and provides for the free exercise of religion “according to the dictates of conscience” and prohibits the General Assembly from compelling persons to participate in religious activity.
Noticed the italicized portion. No part of the resolution proposes to change that prohibition. So if requiring a student to say the pledge requires them to affirm a particular belief — or any belief at all — then such a requirement can still be challenged as unconstitutional. So Carrico’s resolution is not only needlessly redundant, but doesn’t even have the effect he intends. One might find oneself wondering what the point is, then.
Of course, to me, I find myself wondering if Virginians have considered that they are yet again opening a Pandora’s box. After all, it was only this past December that numerous Christians become upset when they realized that Liberty Counsel opened the door to allow Pagans to distribute invitations to their Yule festivities through the Albemarl County school system’s “backpack mail” when they championed the cause of Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski’s desire to use the same flier distribution system earlier in the year. I find myself wondering if Carrico has had the foresight to advise his Christian supporters that his amendment will similarly strengthen the (already well defensible) cause of any Wiccan students who wish to hold ritual on school property outside of school hours. After all, it would be quite embarassing for Christians to realize this too late and cry foul after the fact once again.