New Florida GOP civic education promotes conservative values

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This is one of the slides presented during the Florida Department of Education’s training series for teachers of civics and government. George Washington, left, and Thomas Jefferson, right, were both slave owners.

Special for the Herald

A Republican candidate for re-election to Congress from Colorado recently told a Christian congregation:I’m sick of this separation between church and state junk.

The words of Rep. Lauren Boebert, who fended off a main challenge last week, may seem inconsequential in Florida. But stupid are those who dismiss her as just a right-wing fanatic.

There is a concerted effort to blur the line between religion and state and to interpret US history through a conservative Christian lens that whitewashes our past of slavery and segregation.

This effort begins with public education. It ends with the conservative overhaul of the nation’s highest court.

Florida, thanks to Governor Ron DeSantis, is ground zero for such experimentation. As former state education commissioner and DeSantis appointee Richard Corcoran prophesied, “education is our sword.” Or a scalpel that Republicans carefully handle in Republican-run states. They claim to fight against indoctrination by “leftist academics” while giving their own version – yes, indoctrination – of the founding of the nation.

It’s no coincidence that Corcoran said those words during a seminar last spring hosted by Hillsdale College, a 1,500-student private Christian college in a small Michigan town. The school has strong Republican ties and outsized influence in efforts to reshape K-12 education.

Middle School “1776 Curriculum— apparently a spin-off of Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission, chaired by the college president — has come under fire for downplaying slavery and climate change.

Hillsdale College is among organizations partnering with Florida to train teachers to run a new state civic initiative. Some of the teachers who attended a three-day training session in Broward County told Miami Herald reporters they were alarmed at how it was “warped” into “a very strong fundamentalist way. Christian to analyze different quotes and different documents”. described grade government teacher.

The push to insert Christianity into government is not new. But as the nation becomes more racially and culturally diverse, and less religious, this push is in overdrive – in 2011, about 18% of Americans were unaffiliated with any religion, according to the Pew Research Center. This figure rose to 29% last year. As Confederate monuments are torn down and the names of slave owners are stripped from buildings, there is a counter effort to touch on the bad times in our history.

The point is not to deny slavery, but to give the impression that it was not so bad or so widespread. For example, teachers told the Herald that state trainers pointed out that most enslaved people in the country were born into slavery and were not victims of the transatlantic slave trade. One of the slides used in the training shows quotes from Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson saying they wanted to outlaw slavery but does not mention that the two owned slaves, the Herald reported.

The catch is that no one can accuse state trainers of lying. Their strategy lives in the nuances of history, where data and facts can be interpreted, or obscured, to support a point of view – as all sides of this debate do. The problem is that the State of Florida sanctions a party. He’s trying to coerce teachers — lured into training sessions by a $700 stipend — into saying there’s only one right way to look at history. This view ignores the perspectives of the millions of Americans who are neither Christian nor white.

Separation of Church and State

Another training slide called it a “misconception” that the Founding Fathers “desire strict separation of church and state.”

The reality is more complicated. The Founders didn’t necessarily have a monolithic view on this topic, said David Hudson, a First Amendment fellow with the Freedom Forum Institute, a group that works to raise awareness of First Amendment rights.

“At least some founders cared deeply about the separation of church and state,” Hudson told the Herald editorial board.

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This is one of the slides presented during the Florida Department of Education’s training series for teachers of civics and government. Special for the Herald

In an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, Thomas Jefferson wrote the religious clauses of the First Amendment and constructed a “a wall between Church and State. The U.S. Supreme Court cited his writings in key cases, including a 1947 decision that applied this clause to states. But since then, there has been debate over whether the separation wall metaphor accurately reflects the meaning of the First Amendment, according to Middle Tennessee State University. First Amendment Encyclopedia.

The now conservative Supreme Court has cropped to this separation wall in recent decisions, including a decision to allow taxpayer dollars to be paid for students to attend religious schools in Maine.

Overhauling the justice system and public education is part of the Republican plan to reshape the nation into one that is less pluralistic or tolerant of different ideas.

At the state level, Florida has unfortunately taken the lead.

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This story was originally published July 5, 2022 1:32 p.m.

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