Michigan school district imposes religion test for job promotions

In an exclusive interview with Spero News, Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center – a public interest law firm– responded to reports that a school district in Michigan gives “special consideration" to job applicants that are of "the non-Christian faith." The public schools of Ferndale, a suburb of Detroit in Oakland County, signed a contract with teachers affiliated with the Michigan Education Association that ran initially from 2011 to 2012 and was extended to 2017.
 
Speaking to Spero News, Thompson said of the contract’s provisions, “It is outrageous, and I believe it is unconstitutional." Thompson is the President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.
 
The contract states, in part:
 
“Should there be two (2) or more of these applicants with equal qualifications for the position and one (1) or more of these applicants with equal qualifications is a current employee, the current employee with the greatest seniority shall be assigned. Special consideration shall be given to women and/or minority defined as: Native American, Asian American, Latino, African American and those of the non-Christian faith. However, in all appointments to vacant positions, the Board's decision shall be final.”
 
Thompson said that he was unaware of the provisions of the contract in question until it was brought to his attention by a reporter from Michigan Capitol Confidential: a website based in Grand Rapids MI. Of what he read in the Ferndale contract, Thompson told Spero “It is astonishing. If you are a white Christian male, you can forget about applying to the Ferndale school district. It says that in black and white.”
 
Based in Ann Arbor MI, which is home to the prestigious University of Michigan, the Thomas More Law Center has tackled other cases of perceived illegal discrimination suffered by Christians.
 
Thompson pointed out that the contract may be in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Constitution of the State of Michigan. The state’s constitution declares that the government, "shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."  Moreover, the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment and public services on the basis of religion. Thompson also pointed out that Federal law also specifically prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of religion.
 
“What this is saying,” Thompson reacted, “is that if you are Christian, then you are a second class citizen, when being considered for promotion.  Ferndale is like those Muslim countries operating under Sharia Law where Christians are treated as second class citizens.” He said that this amounts to the persecution of Christians. Thompson asked whether the Ferndale school district will now inquire as to the religious beliefs of those applying for promotions. Thompson added, “This is un-American. They are attacking Christianity and the very foundations of this nation. America is in danger if we lose our Christian roots.” Thompson recalled the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian pastor who was executed during the Second World War because of his opposition to Nazism. Quoting Bonhoeffer, Thompson said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”
 
Thompson fears that the Ferndale contract is yet another example of what he views as an unfortunate trend in the United States. While he is unaware of any other public school contracts like Ferndale’s, he said Christians are the most oppressed class in this country. He cited examples ranging from prohibitions against Nativity scenes in the public square, to a case in Georgia where a Catholic chaplain at a military base was prohibited from using his chapel or tending his congregation of service members during the recent federal government shutdown. Currently, the Thomas More Law Center is not contemplating litigation against the Ferndale Schools since it does not yet have standing in the case. 
 
According to the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, approximately 60% of Michigan’s public school union contracts have illegal provisions. Likewise, Capitol Confidential in 2012 that a teachers union contract for Bay City MI allows teachers found drunk or drugged to appeal several times before dismissal.
Inquiries emailed by Spero News to Ferndale schools Superintendent Gary Meier were not answered by the time of the deadline. 


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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