Bill requiring founding documents education around 9/11 nears passage

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Legislation designating the week of Sept. 11 in West Virginia schools as “Celebrate Freedom Week” and requiring public and private school students to study America’s founding documents during that week may soon hit the floor of the state Senate.

“The purpose of Celebrate Freedom Week is to educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded,” the bill (HB 3080) states.

House Bill 3080’s lead sponsor is House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, who didn’t return requests for comment.

The bill would not require students to actually learn about the Sept. 11 attacks, experts’ beliefs about the motivations of those attacks, motivations for continuing terrorist attacks, the modern history events preceding 9/11 or the attacks’ aftermath.

It also doesn’t specifically require students to learn about how the founding documents do or don’t relate to Sept. 11 or the events surrounding it.

It specifically says students must receive “appropriate instruction in each social studies class which ... Uses the historical, political and social environments surrounding each document at the time of its initial passage or ratification” and “Uses the historical, political and social environments surrounding each document at the time of its initial passage or ratification.”

It also requires an “in-depth study of the intent, meaning and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with an emphasis on the Bill of Rights.”

It also mandates that public school students take a test “the same as or substantially similar to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services between their ninth and 12th grade years as an indicator of student achievement in the area of civics education.”

The House of Delegates passed the bill 97-3 last week — Delegates Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison, Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, and Danny Wagner, R-Barbour, were the no votes.

McGeehan, noting there’s a “wide variety of interpretations” of the intent and meaning of the Constitution, expressed concern about the bill not providing direction on how the instruction will occur and concern about the state Board of Education possibly providing that direction in the absence.

After removing the requirement that there be “at least three hours” related to Celebrate Freedom Week in each social studies class, the Senate Education Committee passed the bill over the weekend. This will allow the bill to reach the Senate floor before this year’s legislative session ends at midnight Saturday.

The 9-11 Commission Report, issued by a bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation and signed by former U.S. President George W. Bush, discussed Osama Bin Laden’s given rationales for the Sept. 11 attacks and his past terrorism, as well as issues fueling terrorism in general emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.

The report notes Bin Laden claimed in 1998 that the U.S. had “declared war against God and his messenger” and “called for the murder of any American, anywhere on earth, as the ‘individual duty for every Muslim who can do it.’” The report noted that prior to 1998, Bin Laden had made a “long series” of public and private calls “that singled out the United States for attack.”

But the report says most Muslims “prefer a peaceful and inclusive version of their faith” and indicates Bin Laden espoused many grievances — and took advantage of grievances held by others — that seem largely unrelated to America’s founding documents.

“He appeals to people disoriented by cyclonic change as they confront modernity and globalization,” the report states. “His rhetoric selectively draws from multiple sources — Islam, history, and the region’s political and economic malaise. He also stresses grievances against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world.

“He inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest sites. He spoke of the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, and he protested U.S. support of Israel.”

“Opponents of today’s rulers have few, if any, ways to participate in the existing political system,” the report goes on to say of the Middle East, while also noting the number of young men without economic prospects. “They are thus a ready audience for calls to Muslims to purify their society, reject unwelcome modernization, and adhere strictly to the Sharia.”

The bill would not require studies of issues that may contribute to terrorism directed at the U.S. And its directions for instruction are the same from elementary schoolers all the way up to high schoolers.

“I think it’s certainly an opportunity for us as legislators to very clearly indicate: Do we believe knowledge of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, do we think those are important documents for our students to know or not?” House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said on the House floor. “I suggest that if you believe those things are important, then a green vote would be appropriate. If you don’t, then certainly red is an option.”

Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, a high school civics and U.S. history teacher, said what the bill requires students to learn already is in public school education standards in various grades.

“I’m curious — if we already have standards in every single grade level that require this instruction, and we already have teachers who are doing this in their classrooms — why we feel it necessary, from here in our marble room, to tell the teachers of this state ‘Go ahead and do what you’re already doing?’” Thompson asked.

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, countered that the state Board of Education can, however, change the standards at any time.

“Our founding fathers wrote this,” said Delegate Rupie Phillips, I-Logan. “It’s a shame we have to sit here and debate this. It’s pathetic. This is a good bill. Teach our kids the history of this great country, that’s bad?”

“What we’re debating here is freedom itself,” said Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral.

Thompson and other delegates who criticized the bill eventually voted for it after other members advocated for it.

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said he’s named after his uncle, who died during World War II. He said he could “only imagine” what his uncle would think about voting against the bill.

“I strongly support this bill, and I proudly cast this vote on behalf of my uncle, who perished during WWII,” Boggs said. He also dedicated his vote to a relative of another delegate who served with his uncle in WWII.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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