GRAND RAPIDS — Warning against the unconstitutional use of religious beliefs as employment criteria in public education, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan in a letter today urged administrators in the McBain school district to remove from a job posting a requirement that superintendent candidates have “a strong Christian background and philosophy.”

UPDATE: After receiving our letter, the McBain School District removed the reference to “a strong Christian background and philosophy” from its job listing.

“There is no principle more fundamental to American public education than the requirement that schools be welcoming of all students, employees and administrators regardless of religious or ethnic background,” wrote ACLU of Michigan deputy legal director Dan Korobkin, who co-authored the letter after the organization received a complaint last week about the online job listing.

“Our Constitution wisely requires public schools to remain neutral in matters of religion. When a school favors one religion over another, or religion over non-religion, students and teachers who do not subscribe to the favored religion are made to feel like they do not belong.”

The listing was posted in early February on the website for the Michigan Elementary and Middle Schools Principals Association and has remained visible since.

In its letter, which was addressed to the president of the McBain Board of Education, the ACLU of Michigan called on the district to amend the listing by removing the reference and to admit that it was a mistake to demand that candidates subscribe to a religious faith.

The ACLU letter also expressed concern that the district had posted the listing even though the board vetted the job description beforehand and the district is working with a professional search firm to hire its next superintendent.

“Even if it was a mistake, however, we are distressed by how many administrators and staff must have read the job announcement without thinking it was wrong or demanding that it be changed,” the letter added. “Moreover, we wonder how many excellent candidates who are Muslim, Jewish or not religious read the job description and decided not to apply because they believed they were not wanted.”

The letter was signed by Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan legal fellow Marc Allen and cooperating attorney Steve Morse of the ACLU’s Northwestern Michigan branch.

Read the letter