Mission Impossible?

In Michigan the State Board of Education has just struck a blow for religious liberty—not liberty for religion, but liberty from religion. Two years ago the Michigan Board of Education drafted a mission statement that included an acknowledgment of God. In the statement, the board recognized that teaching "a child created by God is a noble calling," and stated its commitment to "pray for wisdom." The document went on to say that "religion, morality, and knowledge are necessary to good government." And it expressed gratitude to "Almighty God for the blessings of freedom." These last two phrases were taken almost verbatim from the preamble of the Michigan constitution. Nonetheless, when Democrats gained a majority on the board, they denounced the statement as "divisive" and announced plans to revoke the document. Michigan citizens were outraged. In just three days, more than 2,500 citizens called a toll-free opinion hotline set up by Rep. Ken Sikkema, expressing support for the mission statement. And when the board of education met for a vote, hundreds of citizens packed the Lansing meeting room. Nearly 100 people testified—most of them in favor of keeping the mission statement. But flying in the face of public sentiment and the words of the state constitution, the board voted to repeal the document. In essence, it said there’s no room for God in this public agency. The episode demonstrates that the forces of secularism are growing more aggressive by the day. In the view of many Americans, it is unacceptable even to acknowledge God in the public arena. Michigan School Board President Kathleen Straus told a local newspaper that the mission statement should be rescinded because "to have public schools promote any kind of religion over another is not only unconstitutional, it’s unfair to children." But this is a profound misunderstanding of what it means to be constitutional. American self-government was founded with the express intent to protect religious freedom as our first and most precious liberty. If you sweep the public square clean of all religious references, you set in motion the machinery that will ultimately destroy self-government. A state that refuses to acknowledge its citizens’ beliefs is not democracy at all—it’s just a step away from totalitarianism. The classical political ideal of liberty is a people governing themselves, writing laws in accordance with their own moral traditions, so that they are ruled by their own vision of the public good. This is the founding ideal of our nation. To quote from "We Hold These Truths," a statement that I and 41 other Christian leaders signed on July 4, "Our own nation was constituted by the agreement that ‘we, the people,’ through the representative institutions of republican government, would deliberate and decide how we ought to order our life together." What’s happening in Michigan and all across this country is the collapse of self-government, as the religious faith of the people is forced out of bounds. So when we hear of actions like that of the Michigan Board of Education, we should be the first to protest. We ought to be in the vanguard of those defending the right of religious people to express their beliefs in the public square. If we don’t, soon we may no longer enjoy the religious freedom our Founding Fathers intended to protect. And instead of living in "one nation under God," we’ll be living in "one nation without God."


Chuck Colson


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