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IL State Board of Education considers requiring teachers to abandon religious beliefs for new state-mandated teaching standards

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PEORIA – What the Thomas More Society considers to be "an unconstitutional and discriminatory proposed rule for Illinois educators" is being considered by the state’s Board of Education.

The rule is one that could "require teachers to violate their conscience in order to obtain or retain their teaching license," the legal group said in a press release Monday.

Thomas More Society attorneys are working with the Pro-Family Alliance to address "the potentially unlawful mandate." The rule, enclosed in an Illinois State Board of Education regulation section titled Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards for All Educators, is a violation of teachers’ rights,"according to Molly Malone, Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs for Pro-Family Alliance.

“The primary problem with this proposal,” explained Malone, “is that it unconstitutionally compels speech. This rule requires people of faith to affirm ideologies they don’t believe in and endorse behaviors that may be inconsistent with the values that they live by. We have written a letter, with legal advice from attorneys at the Thomas More Society, asking the Illinois State Board of Education to drop the proposed amendment to the teaching standards.”

The Proposed Rule – Illinois Register Volume 44, Issue 37 – Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards for All Educators, according to the Pro-Family Alliance:

  • Is Unconstitutionally Vague – This rule fails to include any definitions or objectively measurable standards to assess teacher competency with respect to the covered subjects. Instead, it sets forth subjective aspirational statements such as, “The culturally responsive teacher and leader will understand and value the notion that multiple lived experiences exist, that there is not one ‘correct’ way of doing or understanding something, and that what is seen as ‘correct’ is most often based on our lived experiences,” and “engage in reflection about their own actions and interactions and what ideas motivated those actions,” and “explore their own intersecting identities, how they were developed, and how they impact daily experience of the world.” There is no definitive action mandated, but vague, unmeasurable commands to understand, reflect, and explore.
  • Unconstitutionally Compels Speech – This rule requires people of faith to affirm things they don’t believe in. Specifically, teachers are expected to, “create a risk-taking space that promotes student activism and advocacy,”  “embrace and encourage progressive viewpoints and perspectives that leverage asset thinking toward traditionally marginalized populations,” and “affirm students’ identities.” The rule goes on to specify gender identity and sexual orientation, then goes on to direct teachers to “assess their biases and perceptions” about “sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.” Requiring that teachers address so-called “progressive” viewpoints discriminates against traditional values and illegally compels a liberal agenda.
  • Threatens Teachers’ Right to Free Exercise of Religion and Conscience – The proposed rule, if enacted, requires, as a condition of licensure, that teachers take a definite ideological stance with respect to the political and social issues it addresses. This requirement will create potential conflicts with the deeply held religious convictions of teachers, parents, and students in the State of Illinois. Not all teachers would be able to comply with the new standards without violating their consciences.

The letter notes that the proposed rule urges reflection and understanding, especially when it comes to diversity, which according to Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Thomas Olp is not the issue.

Olp elaborated on the dangers of the Illinois State Board of Education’s recommendation.

“We do condemn racism or discrimination due to ethnicity. We respect diversity within the culture. However, mandating acceptance and endorsement of values that may be inconsistent with one’s own deeply held religious beliefs is unnecessary and unconstitutional,” he shared. “Additionally, the rule tries to dictate what teachers think – and to form them in an activist mindset. We recommend that the Illinois State Board of Education drop this proposed rule because of its constitutional infirmities of vagueness, viewpoint discrimination, and interference with free exercise of religion and conscience.”

Read the letter from the Pro-Family Alliance to the Illinois State Board of Education, regarding Proposed Rule – Illinois Register Volume 44, Issue 37 – Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards for All Educators, dated October 23, 2020, here [https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Letter-of-Pro-Family-Alliance-Commenting-on-Proposed-ISBE-Rule-Standards-for-All-Illinois-Teachers-FINAL.pdf]

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4 COMMENTS

  1. This is part of what we wrote to JCAR. We are very concerned about the political thinking replacing critical thinking for our children. Our constitution in the first amendment gives us freedom to have free exercise of religion; the freedom of speech, the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The new standards violate these basic rights given to us in our constitution for all involved in the education process. From what we can tell, these standards violate one of the equal opportunity employment laws which states “It is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.” This is part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The standards as they are written will cause teachers of varying religious backgrounds to violate their conscious or lose their license, and create a hostile and unfair work environment among people of varying races this goes against the freedom our country claims to give to all residents.
    We understand how important, creating welcoming spaces, providing language accessible information, and building up students’ knowledge base to produce critical thinking and determine ones’ own position for themselves is for our students and community. These standards will go against this because instead of creating a community of critical thinking and respectful debate and inquiry, students and teachers will be required to adopt one ideology that really appears to foster thought policing. These standards make certain assumptions about people of a certain color, race, religion, sex that are not productive nor belong in the school system of a free-thinking country. These standards will create an atmosphere where our children are used as pollical pawns. For example, having requirements for children to advocate no matter the stance is inappropriate, irresponsible, and bullish. These types of contentious activities should be left outside of school. The great thing about this country is if parents want to choose to take their children to a rally they can. Education should be about how to gain information to determine a viewpoint for yourself. I believe a contact of ours says it well when she wrote to you. Stating “All children are created equal”. This is not only morally true but is in the Constitution of this country. The proposed standards call for “equity” not “equality”. The goal should be that we work to give the highest education possible without focusing on one group, “the marginalized group”. This makes no sense and there is no evidence anywhere that equity is actually attainable. We should be focusing equally on all children and in creating standards for our schools they should not be applied differently to different children.
    Further, discussions, ideas, and beliefs about gender identity should have no place in K-12 education where kids are barely beginning life’s journey. Whether or not these discussions occur with a child should be left to the comfort level of individual parents since they are so sensitive and require a level of abstract thinking many including ourselves believe is not appropriate for children especially our children. These discussions/debates are more appropriate in adult circles. For years our country has created laws and policies to create equal education because that is what is called for in the laws of this country. There is never a place in education to focus on one group more than others especially when implementing such standards would directly marginalize another group.
    Educational standards require that they are based on scientific data. These new standards are based on the ideology of some with-out the vetting of the community at large. There is a great deal of sociological scientific data that proves that systemic racism is not taking place in the institutions targeted in these standards. These standards allow teachers personal feelings to trump scientific data as well as the ideological beliefs of so many in our communities. This is not a direction that an education system in a free and transparent society should take.
    Please review the standards. These standards are being widely decided upon without the input of parents or even the knowledge that this could be implemented. Where are the parents’ voices? We are called to collaborate yet we are being left out of one of the biggest decisions for our children. Consider implementing community surveys and asking parental input before drastically reforming our education system. If adopted these standards will not address the needs of students. While the talking point may be that these standards are for teachers and not k -12 students, if teachers are being evaluated based on these standards, then they will have to uphold them in the classroom. Vote No. Creating an atmosphere that eliminates critical thinking and promotes one ideology is dangerous to the health of our children and moral fabric of a free society.