FFRF opposes Christian nationalist curriculum in Colo. school district

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is strongly urging the Garfield Re-2 School Board in Rifle, Colo., to reject the Christian nationalist “American Birthright” standards currently under consideration that would radically alter its social studies curriculum.

A concerned district parent has reported that the board is considering switching the current social studies curriculum to a conservative, Christian-based curriculum based on the Civics Alliance’s “American Birthright” standards. American Birthright’s standards “focus on Western civilization and American exceptionalism and high patriotism and Christianity — and have drawn sharp criticism from teachers and national social studies groups.”

Concerns have been raised by University of Massachusetts-Boston Social Studies Education Professor Christopher Martell, who says that the American Birthright has “a clear undertone” suggesting “that the U.S. is a Christian nation founded on Christian values and beliefs.” This is exemplified by passages calling for curricula to emphasize “the role of faith in sustaining and extending liberty” and describing America’s founding principles as “rooted in Christian thought.”

The Colorado State Board of Education voted against adopting American Birthright standards for the state in 2022, with one member stating, “[t]hese standards are too extreme for the state of Colorado.” Additionally in 2022, the National Council for the Social Studies, the largest professional organization devoted exclusively to the teaching and learning of social studies, determined that, “[i]f implemented in schools, these suggested standards would have damaging and lasting effects on the civic knowledge of students and their capacity to engage in civic reasoning and deliberation.”

The Christian bias in the standards is evident immediately. The civics standards direct that there should be an “emphasis on the equal dignity of all individual humans in the eyes of God,” and make repeated references to “Christian liberty”:

Explore the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman sources of the American political system, and the Christian synthesis of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman thought, with its emphasis on the equal dignity of all individual humans in the eyes of God … The early modern English inheritance and documents of Christian liberty, republicanism, militia, accountable government, mixed government, parliamentary sovereignty, limited government, freedom of the press, the English Bill of Rights, and the Toleration Act. The colonial American inheritance and documents of Christian liberty, self-government, and local government. Discuss the Enlightenment theories of Locke, Montesquieu, and their contemporaries that universalized the traditions of Christian and English liberty.

FFRF is strongly urging the board to reject the adoption of American Birthright standards and uphold its duty to provide standards grounded in current scholarship, reflect best practices in social studies education and be inclusive for all student backgrounds and ability levels, as recommended by experts such as the National Council for the Social Studies.

“Public schools have a duty to ensure that instructional materials do not promote a particular religious viewpoint,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes.

Social studies standards that falsely teach that Christian history and Christian traditions are inherently American and/or that religion makes up the fabric of ethics and morality (under the guise of secular history and moral philosophy) blatantly promote Christianity and violate the rights of district students and parents.

The United States was founded by Enlightenment-inspired thinkers who valued reason and skepticism. If the Framers had wanted to establish the United States based on religious principles, they would have said so in the Constitution, the founding document of our nation. Instead, they did the opposite, adopting the first written constitution in history that is godless and did not claim to be inspired by a divinity, and whose only references to religion are exclusionary. That is why they drafted a Constitution and a First Amendment that effectively builds “a wall of separation between church and state.”

Public schools have a duty to ensure that instructional materials do not promote a particular religious viewpoint. Instruction should be based on accepted standards within the academic community. Educational materials should not inaccurately endorse a Christian worldview. The proposed standards create an opportunity and in some cases a mandate for teachers to violate the Establishment Clause by advancing or promoting religious views rather than focusing on historical events.

State education exists to cultivate the minds of young students and promote independent thinking — in short, to educate, not to indoctrinate in religion. The district is a public entity and must make its decisions based on truth, accuracy, and expertise, not on political or religious ideology. It should not be misleading and miseducating students regarding the nation’s legal and founding history.

Teaching students false, biased information about American history particularly stigmatizes and alienates non-religious and non-Christian students. At least 32 percent of U.S. teenagers say they are religiously unaffiliated. A recent study even found that 49 percent of Generation Z say they have no religion. Non-religious Americans are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification — 35 percent of Americans are non-Christian, and this includes the more than 29 percent of adult Americans who are now religiously unaffiliated.

“The school board needs to uphold the First Amendment,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Every child under the Constitution has a right to an education free from religious indoctrination. American Birthright blatantly disregards that right.”

The national Freedom From Religion Foundation has over 40,000 members and several chapters nationwide, with over 1,300 members and two chapters in Colorado, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation Metro Denver Chapter.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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