Editor’s column: Lee’s partnership with Hillsdale aimed at creating a religious state

February 14, 2022 10:45 am
Despite complaints from the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Gov. Bill Lee says he will sign a financial transparency bill into law. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Despite complaints from the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Gov. Bill Lee says he will sign a financial transparency bill into law. (Photo: John Partipilo)

A little over a decade ago, Tennessee went through a Great Muslim Scare. 

A longstanding Muslim congregation in Murfreesboro decided in 2010 to build a mosque and all hell broke loose. Bomb threats were phoned in. Construction equipment was vandalized. Murfreesboro residents sued to block construction.

A Rutherford County state representative, caught up in the furor, freaked out about a mop sink in Legislative Plaza, thinking it was a sink for the washing of feet before Muslim prayers. (Then-Rep. Bill Ketron is now Mayor Bill Ketron of Rutherford County.)

In 2014, Williamson County conservative activists became convinced long-suffering public school teachers were attempting to indoctrinate children into the Islamic faith based on one geography and history unit teaching about “‘the Islamic world’ up to the year 1500 A.D.”

Folks, it’s 2022 and Tennessee has not been turned into Mecca West. But we do have a problem with religious zealots making an attempt to take over our schools and they are at Tennessee’s highest levels of government. 

During Gov. Bill Lee’s recent State of the State address, he announced his intent to partner with Hillsdale College, a private conservative college in Michigan. Lee is dead set on a public partnership with Hillsdale to create a civics curriculum for Tennessee students K-12 students. 

Hillsdale has cultivated relationships with former President Donald Trump and his former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose brother, Eric Prince, is counted among notable alumni. (Prince founded Blackwater, the company whose contractors killed 17 Iraqi citizens in 2007 and provides services to the CIA.)

Lee and Hillsdale President Larry Arnn have discussed not only creation of curriculum but the creation of 50 Hillsdale-backed charter schools, and Hillsdale already has applications for charter schools in several counties, including Williamson. 

Boy, you can bet if Gov. Bill Lee were partnering with a Muslim university instead of a conservative Christian one, Tennesseans would be rioting in the streets. But any partnership that allows religious organizations to stage a government-sanctioned religious takeover of public schools should spark outrage.

Be clear about Hillsdale’s aims: The school’s homepage reads like a template for the  anti-“critical race theory” crowd: “The College values the merit of each unique individual, rather than succumbing to the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so-called “social justice” and “multicultural diversity,” which judges individuals not as individuals, but as members of a group and which pits one group against other competing groups in divisive power struggles.” It also states that it “maintains “by precept and example” the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith.”

In 2000, Hillsdale began creating a network of charter schools and developing a conservative curriculum for the schools. Now, the college operates “Hillsdale Classical Schools,” a charter network, in 11 states. There’s the rub: Lee has already been shot down in court for an earlier effort to give public fund vouchers to Tennessee parents so they could send their kids to private schools. It’s obvious that he’s willing to try again in his latest effort. 

Practically speaking, why on earth is Tennessee’s governor sending our money to a private college in another state to develop curriculum for our kids? He’s doing so because of the religious and racial aspects, not in spite of it. 

Let’s be clear that I do not care how Lee worships or what his religious beliefs are. He’s welcome to worship however he wants to, as are Muslims in Murfreesboro, as are you, as am I. My beliefs are no one’s business and frankly, I know far more about Lee’s than I care to. 

The problem arises when Lee, as he’s now doing, attempts to force his religious and theological beliefs on all Tennesseans and use our taxpayer money to do it.

Boy, you better believe that if Lee was Muslim and was attempting to partner with a Muslim university to create a similar program, Tennesseans would be rioting in the streets. They’d have a right to and they should be just as outraged about Lee’s current plan. 

There’s more than one way to skin a cat and Lee won’t be happy until he’s created a network of publicly-funded, private Christian schools to drain resources from our public schools and turn our state into a theocracy, intolerant of those who don’t believe like he does or look like him.

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.