Civics education bill advances to Utah House

Published: Thursday, Feb. 3 2011 6:57 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The form of government in the United States is a constitutional republic — not a democracy — said Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, and he wants Utah's children to know the difference.

Morley is sponsoring a bill that would put that distinction into statute so civics teachers tell it to students in the courses they instruct. The bill amends a statute regarding the study of American history to include the phrase: "Instruction in American history and government shall include the study of: forms of government, such as a democracy, monarchy, and oligarchy; and the United States' form of government, a republic."

"I believe it's critical that we teach our children in our schools that we belong to a constitutional republic," Morley said. "I believe that it is our responsibility to give direction to our school boards."

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, told the House Education Committee Thursday that her organization supports Morley's legislation.

"There are schools and areas where this absolutely is not being taught," Ruzicka said.

She went on to tell of a parent in the Alpine School District who pulled her daughter from school after her teacher insisted the U.S. was a democracy.

Multiple lawmakers said that while they agree with Morley on the country's form of government, they didn't feel it was their place to write curriculum for schools.

"Where does it end?" asked Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake. "Am I going to tell them that they need to have certain books read in their English class?"

Morley countered that the issue at hand is more important than English textbook preferences.

Rep. Carol Moss, D-Salt lake, said she also knows the difference between a democracy and a republic, but doesn't believe the former is a bad word that should be banished. It means ideals and freedom the world over.

"I'm really puzzled. When did 'democracy' become a negative word?" she said. "It seems like you're trying to change the meaning of something. … I think it's being somewhat subverted here."

Moss said that if a parent has an issue with what's being taught at their school, it should be handled by the principal or local board, not the Legislature.

The bill advanced from the committee 11-4. It now moves to the House Floor.

e-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

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