Earlier this year Springboro Ohio School Board members Jim Rigano and Kelly Kohls proposed controversial school policy changes that would intentionally introduce religion into the city’s classrooms.   Despite heavy push-back from the community and educators, as well as external groups like the ACLU, School Board members are planning to push forward with their agenda with the legal assistance of a far-right Christian group out of Texas.

In early April, Rigano distributed proposed changes to Springboro School Board Policy 8800 (Patriotic Observances)  and Policy 2240 (Controversial Issues).    The full text of the changes can be seen here: 88002240.

Rigano’s changes to 8800 would force Springboro schools to teach courses on the US Constitution using instruction materials provided by specified right-wing, religiously-affiliated groups like the Institute on the Constitution.   It would force schools to prominently display the phrases  “In God We Trust” and “With God, All Things Are Possible” in auditoriums and cafeterias.    And it specifies that time should be allowed for prayer in schools, while encouraging teachers to discuss the influence of religion on historical events and to participate in discussions about religion with students.

The original goal of Policy 2240 was to ensure classroom discussions about controversial issues like religion and sex education were fair and balanced and conducted in the “spirit of scholarly inquiry”.  Rigano attempts to hijack this policy to promote his own right-wing political agenda.

Rigano adds creationism to the list of “controversial issues”.  He adds “pro-life/abortion”, he adds “contraception/abstinence”, “gun rights” and “global warming and climate change”.  He even adds “UN Agenda 21 and sustainable development” – a favorite topic of Glenn Beck and other paranoid, xenophobic Tea Partiers everywhere.

With the proposed changes in place, any discussion of evolution in science class would have to include a section on creationism.   Any time students learn about the weather, they also have to be informed that some people think climate change is a liberal hoax.  Any time property rights are discussed, the teacher has to mention that some foreign troops with blue UN helmets are going to seize your backyard and turn it into a wetland sanctuary for some rare aquatic salamander.

Not surprisingly, many in the community were not happy about the proposed changes.  And neither was the ACLU.  The organization’s legal director sent a letter to Springboro School Board members expressing his concerns over the proposed policy changes which he claimed would result in the unconstitutional teaching of religion in Springboro schools.

Records obtained by Plunderbund show that, shortly after receiving the letter, Rigano began looking for his own lawyers.

Rigano’s first attempt at lawyering up appears to have been prompted by a call from John Freshwater, the Mount Vernon science teacher made infamous for burning Christian crosses on to the arms of his students.   Freshwater, still in the middle of an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court over his firing, reached out to Rigano to recommend his own attorney, Rita Dunaway of the right-wing Rutherford Institute.  (See Panda’s Thumb for full coverage of the Freshwater case.)

Rigano emailed Dunaway (full text of email here) asking for legal advice on the policy changes.  In the email, Rigano admits that “one goal of our revised policy is to require science teachers to teach all sides of the evolution theory, including gaps and contrary science”.  He also admits that the changes aim “to make clear that teaching religion and religous (sic) motivation in a historical context is expressly permitted.”

But the board decided to use the services of different far-right, Christian organization, the Liberty Institute, to help them push through their policies.   According to their website, the Liberty Institute is “focused solely on protecting and restoring religious liberty in the United States.”

At the next school board meeting, scheduled for August 8th, board members will be asked to approve an agreement with the Institute.   The engagement letter (available here) states that the Liberty Institute will provide “pro bono legal representation on matters in the public interest” for the school board – specifically on the topics in Rigano’s religiously-oriented policy changes.

The Liberty Institute is also serving as legal counsel for the Jackson, Ohio school district in a case over a painting of Jesus that was hanging in a school cafeteria.

It’s sad that a few school board members want to impose their own religious beliefs on the students of Springboro.  Even worse that they will be aided in that fight by a national organization and a team of lawyers who see Springboro as a tool for pushing their own hard-right agenda.

But the news isn’t all bad.

On July 2nd, a group of nearly 100 graduates of Springboro schools signed a petition urging board members to stop pushing their religious and ideological agenda on to Springboro’s children. “You are not elected to force your own opinions. Your offices exist—as do all public positions—to represent the needs of your constituents,” write the petitioners.  “The needs of our students are not served by your choices. Neither are the wishes of our parents. And your decisions—and the way in which you have made and defended several of them—reflect poorly on all of us, from the youngest preschooler to the oldest citizen.”

The online version of the petition has nearly 600 signatures.

Another reason for Springboro families to be hopeful: Board President Kelly Kohls would have been up for reelection in November but, according to the Warren County Board of Elections, she failed to file her petition by today’s deadline.

Evangelize!
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  • Jor Dough

    Proving once again former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill’s observation that “All politics is local”. Especially the insane and insufferable political bullshit pushed upon this nation by the Republicans and their tea-bagger goon squads infesting public offices at all levels of American government.

    It won’t change until Democrats raise money to run competent candidates in every election that appeal to the various constituencies involved in the election. Too many Republican slugs go unchallenged in their own primaries and, sadly, in general elections.

    The petitioners mentioned above have it right and highlight how the
    Republicans have it so wrong. “…’You [Republicans Right-wing Nuts] are not elected to force your own opinions. Your offices exist—as do all public positions—to represent the needs of your constituents, write the petitioners.’…”

    If Democrats can learn and put this principle into practice with candidates who are truly representative of their constituents then there is a chance to flush away the stains of Republican bigotry, hate, gun lust and bad-intentioned theocracy from American government.

  • dmoore2222

    Where are the jobs! Oh, I forgot. republicans can’t talk about that so they drag us all into this swamp.

  • Paul Burnett

    The school board should start saving money now for the inevitable million dollar court battle (which they will lose!) that this foolishness will cause. See the Wikipedia article “Dover Trial” for what happened in a similar situation.
    When will Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s “Party Of Stupid” learn that pushing scientific illiteracy is a bad idea?

  • athenap

    Dear Springboro schoolkids who want to have futures. I hear Clinton-Massie has open enrollment, and they’re pretty good schools from what I hear. Good luck out there, kids!

  • Red Rover

    I’m sure the “Liberty” Institute is just as enthusiastic about protecting the religious freedom of Muslims, Jews, etc. as they are for Christians.. right? Yet another group of Christian fundamentalists.

  • Dedre

    What a bunch of idiots on the school board. I hope the residents of Springboro vote them out in November. They are hurting the school and the community. If they want their kids to be taught THEIR religion they need to send them to one of the many Christian schools available. Springboro is a wealthy community but a few of the board members seem to be very anti-teacher and anti education.

  • buckeye15

    I knew Jim Rigano when I lived in the Stadium Scholarship dormitory with him for a few years in the mid to late 70′s. Back then he was an annoying, slimy, backstabbing weasel. I see he has only gotten worse. At the time I hated his brother a lot worse though because he was going around selling bad weed that was laced with PCP and not telling anyone what was in it.

  • Andy

    How did you know his brother was selling bad weed? How much of it did you smoke?

  • buckeye15

    Sometimes once really is enough!

  • http://www.tommyjonestheband.com RantingTommy

    if there was a god, there would be no religion

  • E.A. Blair

    One of my favorite takes on ID is from a bumper sticker I see on a car that is frequently parked near my home:

    Do you think Intelligent Design would have created you?

    I say, teach intelligent design – as long as the biblical creation myth is not the only one taught. Teach the creation stories of every religion and mythology (and, yes, that includes the FSM).

    P.S.: Is this in Springboro, Ohio or Springboro, Pennsylvania?

  • Natasha

    Surely there’d be no Republicans, at least like the GOP we now see slithering through our American government, particularly in Ohio. The Republican agenda is evil incarnate.

  • MarcoZandrini

    This schoolboard obviously has a different understanding of the word stupid.

  • KenStarr

    Three words asswads: Kitzmiller. v. Dover.

    Read the findings of the court and find out what happened to the Dover Area (Pa.) School Districta after a federal judge blew the religious nutsacs case apart and left the town with millions in legal bills.

    Push it anyway? Fine. Put up a bond to indemnify Springboro’s taxpayers against your stupidity.

  • RBH

    I picked this up on Panda’s Thumb, where I’ve been covering Freshwater for years and hundreds of thousands of words.

  • CafeenMan

    Legislators who introduce this kind of thing belong in prison. No lifetime benefits. No nothing. It is clearly un-Constitutional and tax-payers will spend millions of dollars while this goes through the courts to eventually be struck down. While these laws are being written, discussed, passed and implemented, these legislators are not doing the jobs they were elected to do. They belong in prison.

  • RBH

    BTW, Freshwater was not fired for the Tesla coil cross burning incident. That was explicitly excluded by the hearing referee, who said it was satisfactorily resolved by administrative action.

  • http://plunderbund.com Joseph

    Thanks for the link. Updated my post with a link back to your coverage.

  • Mark Schrider

    If families wish to teach their children religion, the place for this is at home or in the church, synagogue or mosque. It is not our public schools.

  • Christopher R Weiss

    You would think that after two decisive supreme court rulings, people would finally get this point.

  • wfraser11

    Rejected by accreditted science departments in universities nationwide, by all credible science organizations of merit in America, the US courts and most mainstream Christian denominations, one can certainly see why Kohls would think she has superior legal, scientific and denominational theology that allows her to encouragereligious fundamentalism in scinece classes dressed up in a lab coat.
    Its obvious that Kohls needs to write down her data and research disproving evolution and suggesting that intlligent design has scientific merit, submit that to a peer reviewed science journal like Nature or Science and collect her Nobel Prize.
    Disgraceful Springboro.
    Science IS critical thinking and it has conclusively rejected EVERY single fraudulent creationism argument and science attack your friends at the Dishonesty Institute have come up with.
    Pitiful

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