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Bill would add 'Christian foundations' to history, civics classes in Michigan public schools

House Bill 4672 was introduced by Newaygo County State Representative Joseph Fox
lansing christian foundations
Posted at 12:27 PM, May 31, 2023

LANSING, Mich. — New legislation in the Michigan House would require public schools to teach the "Christian Foundations of the United States" in U.S. History and Civics courses.

Bill would add 'Christian foundations' to history, civics classes in Michigan public schools

Sponsor of HB 4672, Newaygo County State Representative Joseph Fox says "Christianity is foundational" and believes that the legislation does not violate the first amendment.

In fact, the District 101 Republican says "I think it does just the opposite."

State Rep. Joseph Fox, District 101
District 101 State Representative Joseph Fox says "people need to know how we were established and what our foundations are. He says "if we leave those out, than we are leaving out a major piece of our history."

The bill includes curriculum examples like, "how the pilgrim emigrated because of persecution" and how the communities they formed, "cultivated democratic forms of government and Christian ethics simultaneously."

Fox says, "We weren't just formed in a vacuum, you know, we didn't just appear here and say, 'Boy, this is a nice place to live, I guess we'll start, you know, growing corn, or whatever it is.' There was a purpose behind it, and that purpose, you know, was written down clearly in our Constitution."

But Cooley Law School Professor Michael McDaniel doesn't think the legislation is constitutional, explaining that he thinks the bill not only violates the U.S. Constitution and the Michigan Constitution, but also goes against the Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

"It famously said that a student's constitutional rights do not end at the schoolhouse gate."

He also says there's a legal theory, that focuses specifically on preventing religious coercion.

The Supreme Court has often also said in an educational environment, that rules cannot coerce a student into certain beliefs.

Professor Michael McDaniel, WMU Cooley Law School
Cooley Law School Professor of Constitutional Law Michael McDaniel says HB 4672 is unconstitutional

McDaniel then goes on to explain that "the Supreme Court has ruled you cannot coerce a student into prayer, into participation in a Christmas program, even to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, should that be against their individual beliefs."

Republican co-sponsors argue this isn't about convincing students to be Christian, but instead it's about providing further context to our country's founding.

District 78 State Representative Gina Johnsen
State Rep. Gina Johnsen says this bill is about teaching where our country's founding principles came from.

"Not that anyone has to believe Christianity or read the Bible for the rest of their lives, but they better understand this is where it came from, and they can take it wherever they want to from there," says State Rep. Gina Johnsen (District 78, Lake Odessa)

Her GOP colleague State Rep. Luke Meerman adds that it's important that we're "making sure we're understanding kind of why some of our founding fathers, some of the people came to the United States for that religious persecution, the seeking of freedom."

District 89 State Representative Luke Meerman
State Rep. Luke Meerman says from a historical perspective, he doesn't think this law violates the first amendment.

But, Professor McDaniel notes that "Christianity" isn't an umbrella term for being religious.

"I think you can say that they were religious without necessarily being Christian, and I think it is a bit of a misstatement to say that we are a Christian nation."

With constitutional concerns from the get-go and a Democratically-led state legislature, this legislation faces an uphill battle to becoming law.

McDaniel suggested taking out the word "Christian" and reworking the language so it speaks to the values underlying democracy without referring to a specific religion.

Rep. Fox also admits that if he were to revise the bill, he would add more language that would establish the need to develop what needs to be specifically taught.

Despite this push, all three of the GOP lawmakers we spoke to, emphasized the importance of the American melting pot.

Rep. Johnsen says, "we always want to be very careful. This is the country or the country that you get to have whatever religion you want, or no religion, or you can be an atheist."

The bill was introduced on May 25; it now heads to the House Education Committee.

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