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Divine Constitutional Abomination

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Recent news reports have revealed that the nation's largest Tea Party umbrella group is seeking to infiltrate our public schools with the radical theory that the Constitution is divinely inspired.

The Tea Party "Patriots" are pushing a constitutional curriculum designed by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, which disseminates reading materials suggesting that God intended for America to be a Christian nation, that the Jamestown settlers starved to death because they were communists who failed to embrace capitalism, and that national parks are unconstitutional.

This outrageous so-called "history" is not fit for any classroom. That the Tea Party "Patriots" intend to impose these materials on young children with little or no knowledge of our founding document as part of their "Adopt a School" program is an abomination.

The American Constitution Society has been participating in Constitution Week for years through its Constitution in the Classroom program. By sending volunteers to schools around the country, we introduce students to the important principles in the Constitution that affect their lives. Such principles include the freedom of speech, equal protection under the laws, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and freedom of religion.

There is room for debate about what elements of the Constitution should be featured in a Constitution Week curriculum, and of course, how to interpret those clauses. But the Tea Party "Patriots'" efforts to indoctrinate schoolchildren with material so far outside an honest and basic understanding of the Constitution should not be tolerated.

Instead of teaching a neutral version of the First Amendment's religion clauses and their history, NCCS teaches that the First Amendment establishes the "Religion of America." This theory traces back to NCCS founder W. Cleon Skousen's book, which drew the connection between the Founding Fathers and the biblical tribes of Israel. During his own time, Skousen, a Mormon, was rejected by the Mormon Church and mainstream conservatives including William F. Buckley Jr., law professor Jeffrey Rosen explained recently in The New York Times.

Skousen's disciples should be no less controversial in our own time. And our public schools are certainly no place to be hashing out his theories.

In spearheading this initiative, the Tea Party "Patriots" have realized what the American Constitution Society has long known: Constitution Week is an important opportunity to provide our students with needed education about this country's founding document. But providing them with a dishonest, selective, and deceptive interpretation laced with ideological rhetoric does far more harm than good.

Bill Norton, who is leading the Tea Party "Patriots'" "Adopt a School" program, told The Associated Press this week he'd like to reclaim the Constitution from "secular scholars." When it comes to understanding the Constitution and teaching it in our public schools, that's the only kind of scholar there is.