In "liberal" v. "conservative" debates we've heard all year, one repeated argument is over entitlement and self-sufficiency.  One side argues in favor of social programs as a crucial safety net for the most vulnerable members of society.  The other side notes the cost of the programs and the potential for those same people to become dependent upon the support of government.  I've placed quotations around these ideological terms because the lines get more blurry than you would think around a concept I'll call The Nanny State.

Originally a British expression, Nanny State refers to government policies over-reaching and essentially "babying" the public.  It can function as both a liberal complaint (conservative fiscal policies designed to protect wealth) and a conservative one (legal requirements on products that invite litigation).  The tone of this current election year leans toward complaining about government coddling the perpetually unemployed.

Earlier this month, though, Missouri voters have given us a spectacular example (emphasis on "spectacle") of conservative, religiously-oriented over-reaching.  Quoting

"Missouri voters approved an amendment to the state constitution Tuesday [August 7, 2012] that proponents say will help ensure the right to pray in public.  The amendment was on a statewide ballot and had widespread support, though critics said the right to pray is already protected under the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.  State GOP Rep. Mike McGhee and other supporters agreed, but they said Amendment 2 is really an effort to make the state constitution match the U.S. Constitution and protect Christianity, which they said is under attack."

We probably should be deeply concerned about elected officials or their constituents setting out to change government in ways that will "protect Christianity."  Where Jesus said, "Give back to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22: 21), Missouri would like to force Caesar to name-and-claim what is truly God's.

The concept of Nanny State comes in when McGhee and others justify the amendment.  With limited anecdotes, examples have been given in interviews -- last week on National Public Radio "Tell Me More" and elsewhere -- of cases where teachers or other officials have misapplied the law or overstepped their authority.

From the same Fox article online: "McGhee, whose legislation led to the amendment proposal, told about an incident in which a teacher told a kindergartner singing 'Jesus Loves Me' while swinging on the playground to instead sing 'mommy loves me.'  McGhee thinks the teacher simply didn't know the law and said the proposed amendment attempts to make clear such rights."

Why wasn't something done to provide corrective First Amendment instruction to the teacher in cases like this?  How does it make sense to pass an amendment to the state's constitution that merely repeats the current state of the law?  Are we afraid to give crucial information to teachers about executive orders going back to the Clinton administration that cover this exact same ground for all states?

Or, did the state already step in, whether by school administrators or other agents?  If so, why conceal that fact, if not to make voters perceive an "urgent need" where none exists?  Or, have all the talking points from this amendment merely been a smokescreen to cover-up what truly is new in the amendment: a rule that students can legally opt-out of any coursework that might conflict with their personal religious convictions?

Missouri voters have taken a terrible step.  They are out of line with Jesus Christ, from a conservative Christian perspective.  It appears that they have coddled teachers who needed to hear stern words of correction about interfering with a student's private and personal faith (yes, it is still private and personal on the playground or in the lunchroom, as long as it isn't proselytizing).  They have placed the possibility of a student being offended by educational materials above the necessity of learning itself.

If the Nanny State element isn't clear, I'll explain in reverse order.

Third, it is over-protective and counter-productive for the state to presume it can enable children not to be offended by school work.  It stunts their development intellectually, and it inhibits their ability to speak apologetically against ideas they may grow up to oppose.

Second, a constitutional amendment to "make clear such rights" certainly represents the worst kind of conflict avoidance.  What will McGhee recommend if this governmental "reminder" doesn't work?  At what point would Missouri lawmakers propose the most direct approach instead: talking with teachers and other officials who make mistakes?  Surely we don't need a constitutional amendment every time someone gets confused about the state of the law!

First, Missouri voters have presumably made a statement about how important it is to protect public expressions of religion.  Some conservatives have referred to this as a "public prayer amendment."  The headline on the Fox article reads: Missouri votes to fortify public prayer with amendment that critics call unnecessary.  Whether it is necessary or not, the entire idea is a slap in the face of Jesus and a renunciation of his teaching.

"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."  (Matthew 6: 5-6)

This amendment is not what Jesus would do.  Clearly and directly, it is not what Jesus would have us do.  Perhaps, though, supporters of the "conservative" form of Nanny State don't defer to Jesus at all when they speak of protecting Christianity.  For some, that belief system is more political than religious and the power being consolidated is anything but spiritual.

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