Republican bill would mandate teaching about 'Christian foundations' of U.S.

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Republican-backed bill introduced in the Michigan House Thursday would require school districts to ensure history and civics classes include instruction on what the proposal described as "the Christian foundations of the United States."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Fox, a GOP lawmaker from Fremont, drew immediate criticism from majority Democrats who said it conflicted with a foundational U.S. principle: the separation of church and state.

Fox's legislation would require teaching in history courses on how "early communities" "cultivated democratic forms of government and Christian ethics simultaneously for the prosperity and safety of the commonwealth," according to the bill's text.

Rep. Joseph Fox

In a Friday statement, Fox, a first-term lawmaker and retired Christian school teacher, said there were "narratives" that attempted to "categorically shift the focus of instruction about the colonial era."

Among the "narratives," Fox mentioned the 1619 Project, an initiative of The New York Times Magazine that "aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative," according to the project.

In an interview, Fox said said the separation of church and state is not specifically mentioned U.S. and Michigan Constitution. He said he doesn't believe in the separation as it is usually taught.

"The church has abdicated its authority many times in relation to the state," Fox said.

Michigan Democratic lawmakers, who control the legislative agenda in the Senate and House, criticized Fox's bill. Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, the chairman of the House Education Committee, tweeted that his panel was focused on advancing legislation that "actually benefits Michigan students."

"We will not take up unconstitutional bills written by people who oppose a well-rounded education in favor of religious indoctrination," Koleszar added.

The Michigan Constitution says people should be "at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience." Meanwhile, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says Congress can't make laws "respecting an establishment of religion."

The phrase "separation of church and state" dates back to the early days of U.S. history, according to research by Cornell Law School.

"Thomas Jefferson referred to the First Amendment as creating a 'wall of separation' between church and state as the third president of the U.S.," the law school's website says.

Of Fox's bill, Rep. Noah Arbit, D-West Bloomfield, tweeted, "This Jewish member of the majority party says: Over my dead body."

Senate Education Chairwoman Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, said Fox appeared to be bent on theocracy, a government system in which religious leaders or beliefs rule.

"He really shrugged off any separation of church and state," Polehanki said of Fox.

Fox said in a sense, he is theocratic. God is in charge of the government, he said of his belief system.

Polehanki noted that the state already has social studies standards and said her committee wouldn't take up Fox's bill.

Social studies standards, posted on the state of Michigan's website, say students should understand "how European values and institutions transferred to and modified in the colonies and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the Americas."

The standards include teaching on personal rights, such as the free exercise of religion.

Nine House Republicans signed on as co-sponsors for Fox's bill. Democratic House leadership referred the proposal to Koleszar's Education Committee.