Historical Documents Act

Introduction

Many states make separate provisions for instruction in historical documents, and liberty to use historical documents—above all, liberty to use historical documents that invoke specific religious traditions. We have included provisions in earlier chapters of our model civics legislation that mandate both instruction in historical documents and the liberty to use historical documents. We believe, however, that the state legislators who passed these laws were correct to make specific provisions for these principles. Civics instruction requires the use of our historical documents, above all the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, and their use should be protected expressly in a separate law. Our model Historical Documents bill provides this express and discrete protection. 

Detail

Our model Historical Documents bill provides a lengthy list of documents that must be studied, but does not specify when in high school they should be studied, or in which course. We wish to ensure that students study all these documents, but not to force individual schools to teach them in a particular course.

Level of Study

Some states mandate historical document instruction in elementary school (grades 1-4) or middle school (grades 5-8). Our model Historical Documents Instruction and Liberty bill only mandates historical document instruction in high school (grades 9-12), but we endorse its extension to lower grades, in an age-appropriate manner.

Model Legislative Text

SECTION A

  1. Beginning in the 20XX-20XX school year, all public schools or charter schools located within this state shall require students to take and pass courses of instruction in grades 9, 10, 11, or 12 that include the content, history, meaning, significance, and effect of documents including:
    1. Magna Carta;
    2. the Mayflower Compact;
    3. the Massachusetts Body of Liberties;
    4. the English Bill of Rights and Act of Toleration;
    5. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet entitled “Common Sense”;
    6. the Declaration of Independence;
    7. the Articles of Confederation;
    8. the Northwest Ordinance;
    9. the Constitution of the United States, especially the Bill of Rights;
    10. the Federalist Papers, especially Essays #10 and #51;
    11. President George Washington’s Farewell Address;
    12. the Monroe Doctrine;
    13. the Emancipation Proclamation;
    14. the Gettysburg Address;
    15. President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address;
    16. the Constitution of [name of state]; and
    17. other such documents important to the history and heritage of the United States and [name of state].
  2. When instruction in the content, history, meaning, significance, and effect of documents mentioned in Subsection 1 includes less than an entire document, the excerpt or portion must include as much material as is reasonably necessary to reflect accurately the sentiment of the entire document.

SECTION B

  1. Public schools shall adopt, when appropriate to the comprehension of pupils and the course of study, textbooks for social science, history, or civics classes that contain the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
  2. Public schools shall give preference to the adoption, when appropriate to the comprehension of pupils and the course of study, of textbooks for social science, history, or civics classes that include content, history, meaning, significance, and effect of a broad selection of documents listed in Section A.

SECTION C

  1. No public school or charter school may prohibit any teacher from displaying or providing instruction in a part or whole of any document listed in Section A, when relevant to the course of instruction.
  2. No public school or charter school may prohibit any student from displaying or citing a part or whole of any document listed in Section A, when relevant to the student’s assignment.
  3. No public school or charter school may permit content-based censorship in any social science, history, or civics class of religious or cultural references in a writing, document, or record pertaining to the course of instruction.
  4. No public school or charter school may permit a student to be prevented in any social science, history, or civics class from, or punished in any way, including a reduction in grade, for, using a religious or cultural reference from a writing, document, or record pertaining to the course of instruction.
  5. The documents whose instruction this section authorizes may include religious quotations, references, or illustrations; provided, however, that no instruction seeks to establish or promote religion or to persuade any person to embrace a particular religion, denomination of a religion, or other philosophy.

SECTION D

Public schools and charter schools shall maintain for student use in the permanent collection of a library, a media center, or an equivalent facility at least one (1) copy of each document listed in Subsection 1 of Section A.

SECTION E

If any provision of this chapter, or the application of any provision to any person or circumstance, is held to be invalid, the remainder of this chapter and the application of its provisions to any other person or circumstance shall not be affected thereby. 

Existing State Statutes

Historical Documents: Instruction

Historical Documents: Liberty

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