State education board members speak at forum where Satan is linked to gay marriage, evolution ⋆
Two Republican members of the State Board of Education took part in a recent forum in Macomb County where a pastor quoted Adolph Hitler, posited that both gay marriage and the teaching of evolution were connected to Satan. Christian parents also were urged to homeschool their children while simultaneously seeking positions on public school boards of education “so you can put prayer and Bible reading back in your school.”
The keynote speaker was Pastor Donald Eason from the Metro Church of Christ in Sterling Heights.
The forum, hosted by FEC United, a right-wing parental rights group, was held Jan. 30 at the Clinton Valley Church of Michigan in Clinton Township. The meeting concluded with a panel discussion with Tom McMillin and Nikki Snyder, the lone GOP members on the State Board of Education (BOE).
McMillin said at the forum that parents are in a “spiritual battle and a political battle” for “our kids.”
Snyder slammed Democratic proposals for free lunch in schools and universal preschool.
“The other side’s goal is always more government, more power, more control,” she said.
Neither McMillin nor Snyder responded to requests by the Advance for comment. A request for comment was also sent to Board of Education President Pamela Pugh, a Democrat, but was not returned.
FEC, which stands for Faith, Education and Commerce, has allied itself in Michigan with similar right-wing groups like Moms for Liberty that have slammed critical race theory (CRT), which is not taught in almost any Michigan K-12 schools, and have organized against LGBTQ+ issues, including barring teachers from talking about gender identity or sexual orientation with students.
Eason, who is the running mate of Lena Epstein to be co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, also sits on the board of directors for the Michigan Coalition for Freedom, which describes itself as “dedicated to advancing Christian values and a Biblical worldview.” Eason also helped baptize Epstein into the Christian faith, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Epstein, who was raised Jewish, now calls herself a Messianic Jew.
Machelle Fitzpatrick, Sheila Cohoon and State Board of Education members Tom McMillen and Nikki Snyder at an FEC United forum, Jan. 30, 2023 | Screenshot
Eason spoke for more than an hour on education, describing it as “America’s new battleground” and connected Satan to teaching evolution, as well as gay marriage.
“Satan is the great counterfeiter,” he said. “Whatever God makes, Satan wants to counterfeit. That’s why they want homosexual marriage. They want to teach it in our schools. Homosexuals can’t create more children, so they need to go to the school system and get ours.”
Eason’s speech, which was often met with affirming shouts of “Amen” from the audience, also conflated the prohibition of religious prayer in public schools with the teaching of evolution as having a demonic origin.
“When we took God out of schools, we put something else in,” said Eason. “And it wasn’t maybe even on purpose. When you take something out, there has to be something to fill the void. So if you took God out, Satan came in.”
Eason’s next turn was to so-called “woke-ism” which he used to make a transphobic comparison between a parent having to cook two dinners; one for a vegan child and another for a meat-eating child instead of making one meal and forcing both children to eat it.
“That’s woke,” he said. “They take that same attitude to school. And now because little Johnny wants to wear a dress and go into the girl’s bathroom, instead of telling him, ‘You shouldn’t be putting on a dress and going in the girl’s bathroom,’ we’re going to change the rules at the school so he can go in the bathroom and everybody else gotta go along with it? That’s woke. Why do we get here? Because we are taking God out of schools. Evolution verses creation.”
Eason then pivoted to Proposal 3, which enshrined abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution following overwhelming voter approval last November.
Despite that, he said it was designed to take away parental rights and to illustrate his point, he offered up a quote attributed to Adolph Hitler, which stated in part, “This new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to the youth its own education and its own upbringing.”
Eason utilized the quote to represent the mindset of those he opposes, namely unspecified government “experts.”
“Not only do they want, they feel that they own our children because they are the experts,” he said. “Know the parent that birthed that child is the expert for that child. Yes. They do want to take our children.”
In his conclusion, Eason offered up “action steps” that included increased homeschooling through churches, while extolling parents to become active in their public schools.
“Join your local school board so you can put prayer and Bible reading back in your school,” he said.
A request for comment was sent to Eason seeking clarification on his remarks, but was not returned.
The final hour of the event was a panel discussion featuring McMillin and Snyder from the state school board along with two newly elected local school board members, Machelle Fitzpatrick of Utica Community Schools and Sheila Cohoon of Mount Clemens Community Schools.
“Just this month, and it backs up what Pastor Eason said, the state superintendent went over some of the things, his goals, now that the Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the governor, they’re going to really be able to control the agenda,” said McMillin, who then went on to relate that state Superintendent Michael Rice had said “we’ve got to take care of our babies,” when talking about public school students.
“So that truly is what the government, and you know what Pastor Eason said, I mean, these people, these centralizers, these authoritarians, they really want to become the parents,” continued McMillin. “So I totally think that this is a battle for our kids. Not a physical battle. No one’s talking about taking up arms or anything. But it is certainly a spiritual battle and a political battle.”
The conversation that followed focused on many of the issues Eason discussed, often about mixing Christian belief into public education.
“We need to bring God back into our lives and make him the foundation,” said Cohoon. “And everybody needs to find your Jesus within you, to have the authority to speak at these school boards and to run, or at least vet the candidates that are running and find out where they stand.”
A major issue that came up repeatedly during the panel discussion were fears of increasing government control through education.
One of those fears concerned Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal to provide universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds in Michigan and free school meals for students.
“So when we say free pre-K for all, we’re saying more government,” said Snyder. “When we say free school lunch for all, we’re saying more government. The other side’s goal is always more government, more power, more control.”
Also speaking at the event was Monica Yatooma from the recently formed Great Schools Initiative (GSI), who discussed the group’s new sexual education opt-out form that provides a legal rationale to prohibit any conversation about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
“We are dedicating the month of February to our opt-out form launch and rollout,” she said.
As the Michigan Advance previously reported, the form requires students be excluded from “any and all instruction on gender ideology, the physiological (including endocrinological), psychological and functions of reproductive health as it relates to human sexuality. This opt out includes, but is not limited to: gender identity, gender expression, gender assignment, sexual identities, sexual expression, sexual attraction, sexual orientarion [sic], gender fluidity, transitioning, and expicit [sic] sexual activity or behavior.”
Michigan law already allows parents to opt their kids out of sexual education, and the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) already addressed the GSI effort in a Feb. 2 memo.
“Sometimes a parent or legal guardian requests to excuse their child from district programs, practices, and resources outside of the instructional program (e.g., those that pertain to facilities, communications, library holdings, surveys, after-school programs, and student-led non-curricular clubs),” states the memo. “These programs, practices, and resources are also not part of formal instruction detailed in MCL 380.1507 and would not be subject to the sex education excusal provisions specified in statute.”
However, GSI’s opt-out form also would exclude students from what the group calls “rogue sex-ed,” a phrase Yatooma used repeatedly at the Jan. 30 gathering and includes, among other things, school-affiliated student clubs that support LGBTQ+ students, displaying pride flags in schools or educators and staff asking for students’ pronouns.
The MDE memo does touch on that issue as well, noting that decisions about how those programs, practices, and resources are administered, “are governed by other federal and state statutes (e.g., civil rights laws, privacy laws) as well as local policies and practices.”
During the forum, Yatooma walked parents through the process of filing the form and promised legal action if their school didn’t comply.
“A lot of parents don’t have the financial resources to go out and get an attorney and try to fight this,” she said. “Now with the Great Schools Initiative, we have that covered for you, and so we can help with that process. It’s a game-changer.”
At the forum, she emphasized the legal resources that had lined up to litigate against public schools. But she said the group “is absolutely not against public education.”
“We partnered with the Thomas More Society and they are our attorneys on a federal level,” said Yatooma, referring to the group that had frequently intervened on right-wing issues in Michigan and across the country. “They’re based in Chicago, but soon we’ll have an office here in Michigan working directly with us.
“And locally a lot of you are familiar with the Great Lakes Justice Center, Dave Kallman, who is an attorney. So he’s formed a separate division where him and his son will focus on working with local school boards because, while we did lose big in November, we did win a lot of school board seats, which a lot of people don’t know about. And in a lot of districts we did take the majority and in quite a few of those districts now, because we took the majority, they were able to fire their liberal legal counsel and bring in Dave Kallman.”
Kallman is the founder of the Kallman Legal Group. Newly elected Ottawa County commissioners fired the county’s corporate counsel and hired the Kallman Legal Group in their place. Based in Lansing, the firm is known for representing far-right clients, including Owosso barber Karl Manke when he ignored a stay-home order early in the pandemic and reopened his barbershop.
With the expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation finally moving out of committee, the GSI initiative could face another legal hurdle.
Yatooma said GSI is not anti-LGBTQ+.
“That is not what we are, that is not what we stand for, and that is not what we are doing,” she told the audience. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We want to be inclusive of all children.”
She used the phrase “alphabet mafia” and laughed when she appeared to have trouble saying LGBTQ+. It’s a phrase she has used before in a video in December opposing the creation of a Gender and Sexuality Alliance at West Bloomfield Middle School.
When asked by the Advance about the phrase, Yatooma said, “I went out of my way to make my statement about the LGBTQ+ community because I am an ally. The ‘alphabet mafia’ moniker was in regard to those that attack people like myself who might make a mistake with the acronym as it is always evolving. It was in no way a dig or sign of disrespect to the LGBTQ+ community itself.”
Yatooma also distanced herself and GSI from some of Eason’s comments.
“Neither myself nor GSI is connected to Pastor Eason in any way, nor do we ‘subscribe’ to his points of view,” she said. “Although I will say that I don’t recall a lot of his statements that you referenced as I was not in the room the entire time he was speaking. We were invited to speak on behalf of GSI and are not familiar with Pastor Eason.”
authored by Jon King
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