Michigan department removes religious content from state licensing materials

MichiganFlagThe state of Michigan has corrected an unconstitutional entanglement after intervention from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A Wolverine State resident alerted FFRF that the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services’ official required study materials for those who wish to become licensed insurance agents were promoting religiosity and explicitly discriminating against nonreligious people. The ethics exam materials stated:

“Virtually all the world’s religions teach essentially similar codes of ethics that emphasize honesty, respect for others and their rights, and selflessness. Therefore, in both business and personal situations, highly religious people are likely to act in ways that most of us will regard as ethical. … Moreover, those for whom religion is not a central force in their lives are more likely to act in self-centered, ethically questionable ways.”

The materials also held “religious leaders” as being the opposite of “gangsters and serial killers,” and claimed that under “duty theories” of ethics “individuals have duties to God.”

FFRF sent a letter to the department, alerting it to the unconstitutionality of peddling these erroneous and discriminatory claims. As an official government entity, the department is mandated to remain neutral on matters of religion, it emphasized.

“By teaching test takers that people who are less religious are more likely to act in ‘ethically questionable ways,’ the department is perpetuating and lending government approval to these harmful misconceptions about nonreligious Americans, who now constitute one in four Michiganders,” FFRF’s letter read.

The national state/church watchdog’s admonishment had the desired effect. Director of the Office of Insurance Licensing and Market Regulation Michele Riddering informed FFRF in a letter of response that the conflation of religion and ethics has been removed from these materials.

“We recognize that this complaint originated with a concerned Michigan resident regarding some of the education materials that are available to applicants and licensees,” Riddering writes. “Therefore, we passed along those concerns to the education provider, and the education provider has modified the language at issue in an attempt to address the concerns.”

The materials now attribute the source of ethics to famed philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant and Bentham.

“We applaud the department for taking these concerns seriously and correcting the study materials,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members across the country, including over 800 in Michigan. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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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