The Freedom From Religion Foundation is attempting to educate a Michigan county that recently passed an unconstitutional resolution.
The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners has approved a resolution declaring itself a “Constitutional County.” Vice Chair Sylvia Rhodea justified this resolution by citing a “required affirmation of a Marxist DEI value system for some county positions,” which she claimed is conflicting with her religious beliefs. In addition, she asserted that her individual freedoms were allegedly “repeatedly violated” during the pandemic.
A commissioner having religiously based objections to a government policy does not render that policy unconstitutional, FFRF points out. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its analog in the Michigan Constitution prohibit the government from targeting religious actions for disfavored treatment. The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners’ distorted view of religious liberty may come from the reported support from some of its members for the false notion that the U.S. government is based on “Judeo-Christian values.” However, this concept did not even exist until the mid-20th century, let alone at the time the United States was founded. To the contrary, the United States was founded by Enlightenment-inspired thinkers who valued reason and skepticism. The Founders went on to adopt the Bill of Rights, whose First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion precisely because it also bars the government from establishing a religion.
“It is pure misinformation to suggest that our nation is founded on Judeo-Christian values,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Ottawa County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Joe Moss. “As elected officials, the board should strive to promote an accurate understanding of U.S. history that respects the foundational principles of the Constitution’s First Amendment.”
The board is obligated to uphold the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions based on actual history and legal precedent, FFRF emphasizes, not a false historical narrative about Judeo-Christian values and an imagined superiority of the commissioners’ personal religious beliefs over the rule of law. Instead, as county commissioners their obligation is to uphold the rights of all their constituents. Today, nonreligious Americans are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification — 35 percent of Americans are non-Christians, and this includes the more than three-in-10 adult Americans (29 percent) who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.
FFRF and its Michigan membership are asking the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners to reflect on its constitutional obligations and to reject the influence of Christian nationalists who may have misinformed the commissioners about an imagined version of American history that elevates Christian religious beliefs above other fundamental rights. “We urge the board to examine its sources and to educate itself on its true constitutional duties,” Barker and Gaylor conclude.
You can read the full FFRF letter here.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including over 1,000 members in Michigan. FFRF works to protect the constitutional separation between state and church and to educate about nontheism.