News Story

Whitmer Partners State With ‘Science-Backed’ Buddhist Tradition

State constitution encourages religion but bars support for a particular sect

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has endorsed, and the state of Michigan has partnered with, a business that offers Buddhist practices and Buddhist meditations online.

The state of Michigan offers services from the private business Headspace for free to all Michigan residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company charges individuals $12.99 a month for its services.

On April 17, the state of Michigan put out a press release announcing that it is offering free mental health resources with Headspace.

Headspace incorporates Buddhist practices and Buddhist meditations and is run by Andy Puddcombe, described on the company website as a former Buddhist monk.

Whitmer’s press release says the company provides “science-backed, evidence-based guided meditations.”

Whitmer’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

“Michiganders have faced an unprecedented crisis over the past month, and in these uncertain times having access to mental health resources is crucial,” Whitmer said in the press release. “That is why I am proud to partner with Headspace, I know this science-based resource will be valuable during this challenging time. This virus has taken a toll on Michiganders’ physical and mental health. While we all stay home and stay safe, it is so important take the time to check in and take care yourself. Michiganders are tough, but having access to tools like this one will help us all get through this together.”

The Headspace website describes "how to start meditating with Headspace" and then describes the different types of meditation offered by the company.

According to the Headspace website, “The techniques in the Headspace app stem from both the Burmese and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, even though some of the names have been changed from the original translation to make them more accessible.”

The company states, “The above list of meditation styles is far from exhaustive. Here are some other forms of this ancient practice that you may want to explore. (Note: Many of the following techniques should be learned with an experienced — and in some cases certified — teacher to be most effective.)”

  • “Zen meditation. This ancient Buddhist tradition involves sitting upright and following the breath, particularly the way it moves in and out of the belly, and letting the mind ‘just be.’ Its aim is to foster a sense of presence and alertness.”

The Christian organization Focus on the Family gave cautious approval to the practice of meditation.

“The concept of ‘mindfulness’ is rooted in Zen Buddhist meditation, although it would be a mistake to classify this as a strictly Buddhist discipline,” the organization wrote on its website. “There’s strong support within the Judeo-Christian tradition and the pages of Scripture for the practice of meditation in general. For their part, Buddhists believe that awareness gained through meditation is a ‘power’ that helps them reach nirvana: a state of enlightenment, peace, and happiness.”

“Christians and many faith-based counselors use mindfulness in a Christ-integrated way as a therapy tool,” Focus on the Family continued. “They believe mindfulness can be compatible with a biblical worldview — as long as it’s rooted in Scripture and focuses on connecting with God.”

A section of the Michigan Constitution that was carried over from the Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1787 — which laid the foundation for Michigan and several other states — encourages religion but not any particular faith. And the Declaration of Rights section of the Michigan Constitution prohibits the state from spending any public money “for the benefit of any particular religious sect or society.”

From the current Michigan Constitution, established in 1963:

“Article 8, Section 1 Encouragement of education.

Sec. 1. Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

History: Const. 1963, Art. VIII, § 1, Eff. Jan. 1, 1964.”

The Michigan Constitution also has this to say:

Ҥ 4 Freedom of worship and religious belief; appropriations.

Sec. 4.

Every person shall be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. No person shall be compelled to attend, or, against his consent, to contribute to the erection or support of any place of religious worship, or to pay tithes, taxes or other rates for the support of any minister of the gospel or teacher of religion. No money shall be appropriated or drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious sect or society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the state be appropriated for any such purpose. The civil and political rights, privileges and capacities of no person shall be diminished or enlarged on account of his religious belief.”