FFRF warns Michigan bills micromanage, have religious agenda

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, has heard from many of its Michigan members concerned over the mischief-making intent of two state Senate bills discussed in a Committee on Education hearing Wednesday. Although ostensibly relating to history instruction and religion in school curriculum, the bills contain wording that has been used in several other states as a scheme to post the Ten Commandments and religious displays.

Representatives for the Michigan Association of Secondary Schools Principals and the Association of Public School Academies spoke in opposition to Senate Bill 423, which in part says school districts may post documents and objects “of historical significance in forming or influencing the United States or its legal governmental system” and explicitly allows for “documents that contain words associated with religion.”

“The Ten Commandments played no role whatsoever in the founding of the United States of America, predicated as our nation is on a godless Constitution and secular rule of law. But ignorant proselytizers attempt to use ‘historic’ displays as a means to inject religion into government buildings and now our schools. Public schools exist to educate, not to indoctrinate,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, composed of 19,000 nonreligious members, including more than 500 in Michigan.

FFRF is currently suing two school districts in Pennsylvania that have planted large monuments of the Ten Commandments in front of schools. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled display of Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional, noting "The pre-eminent purpose" for doing so "is plainly religious in nature."

Senator Patrick Colbeck, sponsor of SB 423 is also sponsoring SB 120, which is modeled after legislation sponsored by Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, which was passed in 2005 when she was in the Minnesota Senate. It says that school districts “shall not censor or restrain instruction in American history or heritage or Michigan state history or heritage based on religious references in original source documents, writings, speeches, proclamations, or records.” FFRF is not aware of any published reports of any such censorship.

“These bills appear to give the green light to religious and revisionist instruction in public schools,” Gaylor added. “Michigan’s public schools will be subject to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment — no matter what some legislators seek to authorize.”

SB 423 includes pages and pages of onerous instructions on what public schools must teach about the Constitution and U.S. history. While FFRF heartily endorses general civics lessons and education on state and federal constitutional principles, Gaylor says this bill appears to have a political agenda and crosses the line into micromanaging.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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