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'Science Is Not a Belief System'

ScienceInsider reports that a new law passed in Missouri giving voters the right to pray "without state interference" is raising concerns that it could have a negative impact on the teaching of evolution in public schools.

The Missouri Public Prayer Amendment, also called Amendment 2, was approved Aug. 7 as part of the state's primary election ballot with 83 percent of the vote. The amendment guarantees state residents the right to express religious beliefs and allows students in public schools to pray.

Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., tells ScienceInsider that one particular phrase in the bill — "that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs" — could exempt students from participating in assignments related to evolution if they feel it conflicts with their beliefs.

Others have weighed in on the issue. An editorial in The New York Times argues that the amendment will "create confusion and wreak havoc in classrooms by giving students the right to refuse to read anything or do any assignments that they claim offends their religious views."

And Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, tells the St. Louis Dispatch that the passage of the bill "is going to be a nightmare for school districts, which will end up getting sued by individuals on both sides of church-state debate."

Susan German, president of the Science Teachers of Missouri, tells ScienceInsider that she's urged her colleagues to "wait and see" what the state's education department advises before adjusting lesson plans.

She adds that she's addressed similar issues in the past by explaining to students that "science is not a belief system; it is based on testable questions."

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