Religious Op-Ed written by Ionia Public Schools superintendent causes controversy

Posted at 11:21 PM, Sep 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-25 23:22:17-04

IONIA, Mich. -- An op-ed article in the Ionia Sentinel-Standard is getting a lot of buzz more than a month after it was published.

That's because the religious-based piece was written by the superintendent of Ionia Public Schools.

Ron Wilson has written in the Op-Ed column for years, but many say the the piece last month crossed the line of separation of church and public schools.

The piece, called "Where do you Stand?" was published on August 5 and touches on a number of subjects, including constitutional rights, the Bible, abortion, and atheism.

"He’s calling out members of the community," says Mitch Kahle, a member of Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA). "He’s calling out students and teachers based on their religious beliefs, which is absurd but also a violation of the constitution.”

Kahle says his organization filed a complaint with the school board after they started receiving complaints from some Ionia residents a few weeks ago.

“The superintendent obviously has been abusing his position,” says Kahle. "He has been taking a column that he’s using under the auspices of his official position, and he’s been using it to make statements that are derogatory to entire classes of citizens, especially atheists and secular humanists."

Kahle shared his thoughts in a rebuttal piece in the paper, saying while he's not against people expressing beliefs different from his own, the problem in this case was the person who penned the piece.

“He has every right as a private citizen to make whatever statement he likes,” says Kahle. "But in his position as the superintendent, he is required to remain neutral on matters of religion. Which for the most part means keep your mouth shut."

However, not everyone was offended by the piece.

One person wrote a letter to the editor supporting Superintendent Wilson, saying the critique of him is misguided and that Kahle grossly exaggerated the truth about the superintendent insulting almost everyone.

A number of residents also expressed their support for Wilson on Facebook.

“His article was fine. What he wrote was fine, it was truthful it was from his heart," says Lisa Coe, a Ron Wilson defender. "He should be able to write what he believes and just because it’s about God and his faith is no reason for him not to be able to talk.”

FOX 17 reached out to Superintendent Wilson, who declined an on-camera interview but referenced the follow-up piece published Sunday in which he wrote that his column wasn't meant to offend anyone. He also wanted to clarify that the weekly columns are his thoughts and don't necessarily represent the views of Ionia Public Schools, its board of education, employees, or students.

Mr. Wilson also wants everyone to move forward and focus on educating students.

As for Kahle, he plans to meet with the paper on Wednesday.