Published in the Holland Sentinel on June 16, 2008 -
“We, the people of the State of Michigan, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom, and earnestly desiring to secure these blessings undiminished to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution."
Do you recognize these words? They are the preamble to Michigan’s Constitution. Like almost every other state in the union, Michigan acknowledges the existence of God in the opening lines of their state constitution. So much for the so called “separation of church and state.”
How is it that public school valedictorians are still being persecuted for their faith and prevented from exercising their right to freedom of religion, as in the 2008 case of Jed Grooters of West Ottawa High School? All Jed wanted to do was quote an inspiring passage of scripture as part of his commencement speech, as is his constitutional right.
However, school officials deprived him of that right. Proving himself to be a better person than the school officials, Jed respectfully complied with their illegal requirement.
What would possess the West Ottawa School District to so blatantly violate a student’s constitutional rights? Could it be that our local educators don’t know, understand and/or respect their own state constitution?
Article 1, Section 4 states: “Every person shall be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. No person shall be compelled to attend, or, against his consent, to contribute to the erection or support of any place of religious worship, or to pay tithes, taxes or other rates for the support of any minister of the gospel or teacher of religion. No money shall be appropriated or drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious sect or society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the state be appropriated for any such purpose. The civil and political rights, privileges and capacities of no person shall be diminished or enlarged on account of his religious belief.” Jed’s rights, privileges and capacities were deliberately diminished.
Article 1, Section 5 states: “Every person may freely speak, write, express and publish his views on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of such right; and no law shall be enacted to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.” Jed was clearly restrained and the liberty of his speech was definitely abridged.
Worst of all, Jed was the subject of religious discrimination in violation of Article 1, Section 2, which states “No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws; nor shall any person be denied the enjoyment of his civil or political rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of religion, race, color or national origin. The legislature shall implement this section by appropriate legislation.”
I don’t know what should happen to the officials responsible for these violations, but I do know that all public officials need to learn and comply with the protected rights of those under their charge. Maybe we should start by requiring all public officials to pass the U.S. Naturalization Citizenship Test. I wonder how many school board members, administrators and teachers would fail the exam required of an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen.
My hat goes off to Jed Grooters for standing firm in his faith and for honoring God by respecting those in authority over him, even though they were clearly wrong. My hat also goes off to the graduating class president, Andrew Webster, who made sure God’s word would not be silenced after all. To both of them, I offer this prayer from Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.