Back to religion in Springboro classrooms

The Springboro school board plans to bring courses providing what opponents call religious interpretations of the U.S. Constitution to local classrooms this summer.

Starting in July, the Institute on the Constitution is scheduled to present its 12-week course at Springboro High School. Then on Aug. 3, the National Center for Constitutional Studies is scheduled to present a “Making of America” seminar at the school, according to district communications.

The National Center for Constitutional Studies has been touted by talk radio personality Glenn Beck, who wrote a forward to the book, “The 5,000 Year Leap,” by the organization’s founder, W. Cleon Skousen.

“We are offering the courses so parents, students, staff and the community can see first-hand the content of these courses instead of listening to speculation from people who have never attended them,” Board Vice President Jim Rigano said in an email Monday.

While weighing legal action, the ACLU of Ohio said it is now investigating the board’s actions as part of an overall plan to push a religious agenda in the public school district.

“They have an agenda to push. That agenda is evangelical Christianity,” communications coordinator Nick Worner said. “All of our options, including legal options, are on the table.”

The importance placed on religion by the National Center for Constitutional Studies goes back to its importance to Americans in the 1770s, Zeldon Nelson, CEO of the National Center for Constitutional Services, said Tuesday.

“They didn’t want those religious rights stepped on,” Nelson said. “We don’t feel like we are trying to inject anything political.”

Board Member David Petroni said the classes are part of the board’s efforts to educate the district on the original content of the Constitution, called for in new laws calling for the teaching the original text and intent of the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and the Northwest Ordinance in Ohio schools.

“We’re merely providing a venue for community education coupled with a very unique opportunity for parents and families to view potential curriculum in the case of the Making of America seminar. I think any opposition or outrage is misplaced and unfortunate,” Petroni said in an email.

But parent Laura Thomas charged “tea party leaning” members of the board with promoting their agenda through the classes, rather than focusing on education.

“I don’t appreciate a religious leaning political group asserting their agenda through my public school,” said Thomas, who has two children at Five Points Elementary School in Springboro.

Earlier this month, the school board delayed action on controversial proposals to amend board policies to include creationism in a list of controversial topics for discussion in district classrooms and teachings from groups — including the two leading the new summer courses — as part of “Religious/Patriotic Ceremonies and Observations.”

Last month, the ACLU and Freedom From Religion Foundation urged the board to abandon plans to change the board policy on Religious/Patriotic Ceremonies and Observances to allow use of materials from groups including for the National Center for Constitutional Studies and the Institute for the Constitution, as well as Hillsdale College.

The debate received nationwide attention until the board postponed action on the policy changes.

“It’s shocking that the school board would choose to put on these summer programs in light of the opposition they’ve received from local residents and taxpayers and national organizations, which have already pointed out the problems with these institutions,” said Rebecca Markert, senior attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group that bills itself as working to promote the separation of church and state.

On Monday, the school district publicized the upcoming classes in a district-wide communication.

“Springboro Schools is evaluating both courses and we’re inviting parents, families, community members, home schoolers and anyone else who would like an in-depth study of America’s founding to join us for one or both courses. Your family will see, hear, and learn exciting and unforgettable stories about the founding of our country,” according to the email.

Participants in the 12-week course are required to pay $35 for materials, $45 if they register after July 1. The district is collecting $5 a person for a box lunch and refreshments for the August seminar.

Rigano proposed bringing these courses to the district during the May 24 board meeting where parents, teachers and residents criticized the two policies and urged the board to focus on education.

“Many adults (including me) are in a period of awakening with respect to the founding principles as people examine the original intent and compare it with today’s reality to find many of the serious national problems we face today were addressed in 1787,” Rigano said during the meeting.

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