A New Low for Fox News

April 3, 2012 by

Media Matters reports that Fox News anchor Heather Childers today used her Twitter account to promote a bizarre birther conspiracy theory that, during the 2008 presidential election, then-candidate Barack Obama’s campaign threatened to have Chelsea Clinton murdered. The “threat” to have Chelsea rubbed out was allegedly part of an effort to keep Bill and Hillary Clinton from “going public” with information showing that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

You might recall how Fox News helped far-right activists hijack the revision of curriculum standards in Texas in 2009-10. The so-called “fair and balanced” network actually attacked Texas Freedom Network Kathy Miller at the time, broadcasting photographs of her and two others under the caption “Textbook Troublemakers.” One right-wing Texas State Board of Education member made a public point of treating Fox News reporters with cookies at one meeting during the curriculum debate.

UPDATE: Gadfly Donna “Jeffrey Dahmer Believed in Evolution” Garner, who supported the right-wing hijacking of the Texas curriculum standards, is promoting this same kooky Obama-threatened-to-kill-Chelsea conspiracy. Birds of a feather…

New TFN Insider Design Coming

April 3, 2012 by

We are about to implement a new design and features that better integrate TFN Insider and the Texas Freedom Network’s main website. So we apologize in advance for any technical hiccups that might happen over the next couple of days.

We hope you will like the new design. Like the one we’ve had since launching TFN Insider in July 2008, the new design is pretty streamlined and easy to navigate. In fact, it’s very similar to our current website. What’s not changing is our goal to help TFN Insider readers stay informed about the religious right in Texas and our efforts to protect religious freedom, individual liberties and public education for all.

We also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support and for helping spread the word about TFN’s important work. You might be interested to know that TFN Insider is about to reach an important milestone for the blog of a nonprofit, state-based advocacy group: 1 million views since launch. The healthy traffic to this blog is due in large part to readers like you who contribute your own comments and share our posts on your own blogs, your Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and other social media.

Thank you!

TX SBOE Candidate Posts Anti-gay Views on FB

April 2, 2012 by

At least one candidate for the Texas State Board of Education seems to think that his anti-gay views are relevant to his election campaign and managing public schools. A TFN Insider reader alerted us to the following Facebook post by David Williams, a candidate for the District 3 seat on state board. His post is on the Family Research Council’s Facebook page:

“Thank you for your support for the traditional family. In 2006 through prayer and community action a gay student club was voted down by the student government at my son’s school. The Lord has given me a new mission, to run for the Texas State Board of Education. Please pray for me and thank you for being a voice up there for those of us out here.”

A reader noted his surprise by how delighted Williams is that gay students at his son’s school wouldn’t be able to form a club. Williams’ response:

“Students were given all the science facts about the origins of same sex attraction and also introduced to ex-gays who verify that change is possible. A need for a student group that promotes same sex relationships became a mute point in their opinion. Students are very capable of sound critical thinking when given all the facts and opinions on given issues. Jesus loves all of us captive to many sins, however He would also say to us all, go and sin no more.”

You can see the exchange in the photo below.

Williams is the only Republican seeking the District 3 seat. Incumbent Michael Soto of San Antonio is being challenged by Marisa Perez in the Democratic primary. All three candidates are from San Antonio.

Click here for more information about all SBOE districts, elections and candidates this year.

Did David Barton Break the Law?

April 2, 2012 by

The Texas Freedom Network just sent out the following press release:

FUNDRAISERS FOR TEXAS SBOE INCUMBENT’S CAMPAIGN RAISE QUESTIONS

TFN Asks for Investigation into Whether David Barton’s Support for SBOE Incumbent David Bradley Violates State Law

The Texas Freedom Network today asked district attorneys in Harris and Jefferson counties to investigate whether a State Board of Education (SBOE) incumbent’s campaign fundraising events feature the illegal involvement of a prominent political leader who also publishes instructional materials used in Texas public schools.

Republican SBOE member David Bradley’s campaign website touted David Barton, head of a political advocacy group called WallBuilders, as a featured speaker at two Bradley fundraisers on Saturday (March 31) in Beaumont and Houston. Among the state board’ s responsibilities is adopting instructional materials for public schools. WallBuilders publishes instructional materials. But according to the Education Code, “a person engaged in manufacturing, shipping, selling or advertising instructional materials commits an offense if the person makes or authorizes a political contribution to or takes part in, directly or indirectly, the campaign of any person seeking election to or serving on the board.” Violation of the statute is a Class B misdemeanor.

Barton’s participation in Bradley’s campaign raises questions about the law as well as propriety, TFN President Kathy Miller said.

“Clearly, we think this raises serious legal questions about Mr. Bradley’s fundraising and Mr. Barton’s participation in it,” Miller said. “But it also rings alarm bells about potential cronyism and highlights how big a role politics plays in decisions about what textbooks our kids use in their schools. This isn’t just a technicality. We shouldn’t have people who are involved in creating and selling instructional materials also raising money for candidates for a state board that decides which materials will be sold to schools.”

Barton and WallBuilders have published various instructional materials used in public schools.

  • Barton is co-author of an American history textbook, Drive Thru America, that has been marketed to schools as “designed to meet state-mandated curriculum guidelines” and aligned with standards developed by the National Council for the Social Studies. The state board is set to consider proposed instructional materials for social studies in 2014.
  • Various school districts reported using during the 2005-06 school year materials published by WallBuilders, including the “American Government and Bible” video (Brady ISD); Barton’s book “Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution & Religion” and the “Foundations of American Government” and “The Spirit of the American Revolution” videos (Mineral Wells ISD); and “America’s Godly Heritage” video (Belton ISD).
  • Barton’s organization, WallBuilder Press, publishes the “New Testament Bible Study Course: Dallas High Schools” and “Old Testament Bible Study Course: Dallas High Schools,” which were originally published by Dallas Public Schools. The New Testament course book was still used in at least one Texas school district as recently as the 2005-06 school year. The Legislature passed a law laying out guidelines for public school Bible classes in 2007, and the State Board of Education subsequently adopted curriculum standards for the courses.

Bradley’s challenger in the SBOE District 7 Republican primary is Rita Ashley of Beaumont. Because no Democrat is seeking the seat, the winner of the GOP primary will be a member of the SBOE when that body approves textbooks and other instructional materials for public schools, including for science in 2013 and social studies in 2014.

The Week in Quotes (March 25 – 31)

April 1, 2012 by

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

Read the rest of this entry »

SBOE Candidate: Celeste Zepeda Sanchez

March 30, 2012 by

Because of redistricting, all 15 seats on the Texas State Board of Education will be up for grabs in the November 2012 elections. The results of those elections will determine whether the religious right’s corrosive influence over public education will weaken or grow as the board considers what the next generation of public school students in Texas will learn about sex education, social studies, science and other subjects. We plan to publish on TFN Insider candidate announcements for a seat on the SBOE. We will publish announcements in no particular order, and their publication does not constitute any sort of endorsement by TFN. We will redact requests for contributions or mentions of fundraising events from the announcements, but we will provide links to the candidates’ websites (if available).

Click here to go to TFN’s SBOE Election HQ, with in-depth information about state board districts, elections and candidates this year.

Celeste Zepeda Sanchez, District 2, D-SanBenito
(Current District 2 Board Member: Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi)

Celeste Zepeda Sanchez, D-San Benito, is assistant superintendent for curriculum with the San Benito School District and is seeking the District 2 SBOE seat currently held by Mary Helen Berlanga. Berlanga is not seeking re-election. (Campaign website not yet available.)

Celeste Zepeda Sanchez of San Benito has announced her candidacy for the position of District 2 State Board of Education. Mary Helen Berlanga, a long time serving board member, has chosen not to seek re-election.

With 45 years of experience in education, Sanchez has breadth and depth of experience ranging from her early years as an elementary school teacher that followed her migrant students to Michigan providing summer classes for these Texas school children to serving as the Director of the Gifted and Talented Program at San Benito ISD, followed by a position as Assistant Superintendent with the Edgewood School District in San Antonio, Texas. She currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum with the San Benito School District where she has focused on curriculum innovation, technology enhancements, and successful efforts in external funding through sponsored grant programs.

This broad range of experience serves to inform her platform for seeking the position as a member of the State Board of Education. Sanchez proposes to focus her efforts while on the Board on issues of curriculum, school finance, and public school accountability measures.

Sanchez holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Texas A&M-Kingsville.

“As the grandmother of children in Texas Public Schools, I want my grandchildren and all children to attend safe schools where teachers have the resources, the technology and the environment necessary for children to learn and thrive.” says Sanchez.

She resides in San Benito, Texas, and currently serves on the City Commission as well as numerous other decision making boards.

Falling Behind on Science Education

March 30, 2012 by

A national poll shows that 97 percent of American voters think improving the quality of science education is important to the country’s ability to compete globally. Yet most of those voters give the quality of science education in America right now only a “C” or lower and rate it behind that of most other countries. (This polls follows a report from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute that gave a “C” grade to science curriculum standards in Texas and many other states.)

The poll was conducted for Achieve, a bipartisan, nonprofit education reform organization created by governors and corporate leaders in 1996. That organization helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments and strengthen accountability.

Achieve is working with 26 state to develop a set of “Next Generation Science Standards.” Texas isn’t one of those states. But that’s OK because the insurance and software salesmen, dentist and assorted political activists who have sat on the Texas State Board of Education  in recent years are sure they know everything students should be learning in their science classrooms. Those wonderful board members have been busy “standing up to experts,” asking why we don’t have “cat-dogs” or a “rat-cats” if evolution is really established science, and calling critical thinking “gobbledygook.”

What They Really Think

March 29, 2012 by

From a religious-right group’s email to activists today:

“Rick Santorum is from God and will win with Christians and Catholics uniting for Santorum.”

“Christians and Catholics”? As if Catholics aren’t Christians?

Of course, it’s bad enough that religious-righters try to deify their favored political candidates (like Santorum). But the suggestion that Catholics are something other than Christians should tell you what they really think about even their supposed allies.

SBOE Candidate: David Williams

March 28, 2012 by

Because of redistricting, all 15 seats on the Texas State Board of Education will be up for grabs in the November 2012 elections. The results of those elections will determine whether the religious right’s corrosive influence over public education will weaken or grow as the board considers what the next generation of public school students in Texas will learn about sex education, social studies, science and other subjects. We plan to publish on TFN Insider candidate announcements for a seat on the SBOE. We will publish announcements in no particular order, and their publication does not constitute any sort of endorsement by TFN. We will redact requests for contributions or mentions of fundraising events from the announcements, but we will provide links to the candidates’ websites (if available).

Click here to go to TFN’s SBOE Election HQ, with in-depth information about state board districts, elections and candidates this year.

David Williams, District 3, R-San Antonio
(Current District 3 Board Member: Michael Soto, D-San Antonio)

David Williams, an algebra teacher at a private school in San Antonio, has announced he will run for the District 3 SBOE seat currently held by Michael Soto. Williams’ website is davidwilliamsdistrict3.com.

David had the privilege of receiving certification and teaching Starbase Oklahoma, an aerospace education course sponsored by the Oklahoma Air National Guard for 7 years. He also worked three summers as an educator portfolio assessor for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. He coached the Southwest Oklahoma Math Counts All Star Team in 2007.

Before starting his career in education, David served four years in the United States Navy as a hospital corpsman and aviation medical technician, two of his assignments serving marines. An eighteen-year career in the United States Army followed, attaining the rank of Chief Warrant Officer Three. Tours of duty included infantry, armor, artillery, and maintenance battalions. He is a Persian Gulf War veteran. He is a lifetime member of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and served as a mentor for the national Troops to Teachers program for eight years while teaching.

In 1993 while still on active duty David taught four, eight-week sessions of a moral development course at the military correctional facility on Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In 1994 he taught automotive maintenance for Central Texas College at Camp Casey, Korea for the fall semester.

David’s interest in education has been a life priority for many years, regularly volunteering to teach in the local church as the family grew. He has been a deacon, nursery worker, and Bible teacher for elementary children, middle, high school, collegiate, and adult classes. David is a small group leader for Focus on the Family’s, The Truth Project. Since returning to Texas he and Deborah have attended Cornerstone Church in San Antonio.

Read the rest of this entry »

SBOE Candidate: Veronica Anzaldua

March 27, 2012 by

Because of redistricting, all 15 seats on the Texas State Board of Education will be up for grabs in the November 2012 elections. The results of those elections will determine whether the religious right’s corrosive influence over public education will weaken or grow as the board considers what the next generation of public school students in Texas will learn about sex education, social studies, science and other subjects. We plan to publish on TFN Insider candidate announcements for a seat on the SBOE. We will publish announcements in no particular order, and their publication does not constitute any sort of endorsement by TFN. We will redact requests for contributions or mentions of fundraising events from the announcements, but we will provide links to the candidates’ websites (if available).

Click here to go to TFN’s SBOE Election HQ, with in-depth information about state board districts, elections and candidates this year.

Veronica Anzaldua, District 2, R-McAllen
(Current District 2 Board Member: Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi)

Veronica Anzaldua of McAllen has announced that she will seek Republican nomination for the Texas State Board of Education in District 2. The seat is currently held Mary Helen Berlanga, who has decided not to seek re-election. Anzaldua is a high school educator in the Mission Consolidated Independent School District and her website is voteveronica.com.

MY PHILOSOPHY

I AM SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE
1. I believe LIBERAL influence should be kept to a minimum. What does this mean? I want curriculum for students to reflect actual facts about history, science, economics etc. and not one modified to suit political correctness and liberal bias.

2. I operate under a Christian world view as opposed to a secular world view. What does this mean? I believe God has a role in the lives of men and women on a personal level and the affairs of mankind in general.

I AM FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE
1. I believe the smallest and most efficient budget should be used. What does this mean? If the economy shrinks, all state agencies should shrink as well to maintain equilibrium. Each agency should strive for the smallest budget so the State can tax as little as possible.

2. I am against pet projects. Any projects undertaken through the State Board of Education should benefit all districts and not favor just a few districts.

3. I believe in a minimalist governmental role. What does that mean? Hands off and free choice are better than extensive control through the agency. Local control is the best choice for schools to implement and administer curriculum and school policy as long as it follows the curriculum approved by the State Board of Education and the laws of the State of Texas.

INSTITUTING CONSERVATIVE VALUES
1. In 2011, the debate on the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in schools is one that the State Board of Education conservative members lost. I would have voted to include the theory of Intelligent Design as well as the theory of Evolution in the curriculum. “Education” is presenting both sides of an issue. “Indoctrination” is presenting one view with bias.

2. My stated values would be part of the decision process in acting as a representative of constituents’ views (State Board of Education, District 2) in determining curriculum issues; however, contrary outside influence or influences that benefit only a special interest or interests would play only a minor role at best.

Bringing Compassion Back into Faith

March 26, 2012 by

Jeremy Reynalds, founder of an emergency homeless shelter in Albuquerque, calls on fellow evangelicals to practice the compassion they preach:

I’m an evangelical Christian, although I’m hesitant to use that word because of the negativity it routinely engenders.

I prefer to think of myself as an ordinary person who loves Jesus and wants to spend his remaining days helping people.

At one point not so long ago I considered myself a proud conservative evangelical Republican Christian.

Now I’m just me, conservative in some aspects, liberal in others and loving Jesus in all.

So what happened? Well, I’m no longer willing to subscribe to the political correctness which dominates so much of evangelical “orthodoxy.” To be honest, I don’t think some of it is very, well, “Christian.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Week in Quotes (March 18 – 24)

March 25, 2012 by

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

Read the rest of this entry »

From the Hate Mail Bag

March 23, 2012 by

A new Christian-themed specialty license plate, approved by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board last December, went on sale this week. Here’s what we told Fox News about our concerns:

“I think you want to be very careful when you give government the authority to favor a particular religion in an official way such as this,” Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, told FoxNews.com.

“That’s what bumper stickers are for,” Quinn said of religious decorations on vehicles. “We support religious freedom for everybody. The question is: Do you need government approval for that? We don’t want government having that authority.”

The group had previously blasted the plate as “disrespectful,” saying in a December press release on its website that “It’s become pretty clear that our governor [Rick Perry] is dismissive of religious beliefs other than his own, and now his governmental appointees have voted to send a message that Texas is unwelcoming to the religious faiths of some of its citizens.”

Our hate mail typically spikes when we’re quoted by Fox. (Go figure.) In any case, the writer of the following email apparently checked out our website, including the section on our Texas Faith Network. He doesn’t like us:

Saw your site and the proclamation of “progressive clergy”?

“Progressive clergy” is just another way to say sell out clergy.

No Christian, at least a true Christian, is tolerant or accepting of other religions.

In fact, God’s Holy Word the Bible tells Christians to flee evil ….. not to even talk of the evil that they do.

Unlike your ““progressive clergy” proclaims, we are not all the children of God and we do not serve the same god.

True Christians are the only children of God and true Christians serve the one and only true God …. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Your “progressive clergy” are the false prophets that the Bible teaches us about. The purveyors of false doctrine ……. the servants of Satan and his minion.

This is a nation based upon Christians beliefs.

To God be the glory and may His judgment fall upon this nation that it, through your evil kind and your “progressive clergy” across this nation, has called upon it.

As the Bible says, the rain falls on the heads of the just and unjust …….. we, the true Christians, the born again Christians, the true children of God will bear it for His Name’s sake.

Anti-Evolution Politics Hurt Science Education

March 22, 2012 by

The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has posted a new essay following up on the organization’s January report giving low marks to science curriculum standards in most states, including Texas. Dr. Paul R. Gross, an emeritus professor of life sciences at the University of Virginia, writes for Fordham’s Education Gadfly e-newsletter that weak coverage of evolution is a product both of religious objections and politics.

“A focused combination of politics with religion, in pursuit of (or opposed to) governmental action, is vastly more effective than either one alone.

By themselves … religious anti-evolutionists would wield scant power over state decisions. Real power comes by politicizing the arguments and switching them from scripture to more stylish notions: ‘scientific alternatives,’ ‘critical thinking,’ or—most commonly—’strengths and weaknesses of [Darwin’s] theory.’ When these are pressed by politicians dissing ‘Darwinism,’ a downgrading of science is underway.”

Gross writes that increasing efforts in state legislatures to politicize and undermine the teaching of evolution have serious consequences for science even if proposed anti-evolution measures don’t pass:

“(T)hey can still have real effect on classroom teaching, on textbook content and selection, as well as on the curriculum as taught. All this political activity and the sense of popular support that it engenders can easily discourage teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

The common anti-evolution claims are no more than talking points, less cogent even than the talking points of politics. The primary scientific literature has disposed of them all, as any serious reader can discover. Their real purpose is simply to cast doubt on evolution as a shaper of life forms. But there is no reasonable doubt that Earth is four billion years old and that life’s diversity emerged over eons in steps, usually small, driven by such (evolutionary) mechanisms as genetic change and natural selection.”

Remember this when creationists on the Texas State Board of Education (and in the Texas Legislature) argue — as they have repeatedly — that they aren’t trying to promote their religious views in science classrooms. That’s because they know the courts would slap them down. No, the goal of evolution deniers is to undermine confidence in science itself, thus opening the door to “alternative” concepts that have no basis in science (“intelligent design”). That’s really what Don McLeroy was trying to do when he demanded that “somebody’s gotta stand up to experts” during the debate over new science standards for Texas schools  in 2009.

But that kind of ignorance is undermining the education of millions of schoolchildren.

Click here to help elect a new State Board of Education in Texas this year.

TX SBOE District 15 Candidates Talk Sex Ed

March 21, 2012 by

Someone needs to educate Marty Rowley about sex education.

Speaking on Tuesday at a candidate forum with Republican primary opponent Anette Carlisle, the Texas State Board of Education District 15 candidate explained why he supports an abstinence-only policy on sex education:

“I believe if we pass out condoms at schools we’re saying, ‘Yeah, we’re teaching you about abstinence, but we know you’re not going to pay attention to it, so here’s a condom to make sure that you don’t get pregnant.’”

Good grief. The issue isn’t about passing out condoms to students. In fact, state law bars public schools from distributing condoms as part of sex education classes. But it doesn’t bar schools from teaching students medically accurate information about contraception and STD prevention. Moreover, 80 percent of likely Texas voters, according to our 2010 statewide poll, support giving high school students that information along with emphasizing the importance of abstinence in sex education classes. And evidence shows that sex education actually gets teens to wait before starting to have sex.

Yet most school districts in Texas — a state with one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation — teach abstinence-only or nothing at all about sex education (although we’re making progress in changing that). Abstinence-only advocates like Rowley try to scare parents into believing that teachers would otherwise be handing out condoms like it’s Halloween candy.

Speaking at the same candidate forum, which was sponsored by the Amarillo Tea Party Patriots, Carlisle said she supports an “abstinence-based” approach to sex education:

“I certainly believe in opt-out for parents if they don’t want their students in there. We need to give them knowledge so they don’t become victims of bad choices.”

Rowley and Carlisle are seeking election to the state board seat currently held by Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, who is leaving the board at the end of the year. Rowley is an attorney and former church pastor. Carlisle is the Amarillo school board president.

Rowley has been touting his support from members of the state board’s far-right bloc, including current board chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, and former chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. Carlisle has a rather extensive list of endorsements, including support from current Republican board members Bob Craig and Thomas Ratliff  as well as local school board leaders and other education folks throughout West Texas.

While Rowley’s campaign website veers into areas like his anti-abortion views (an issue over which the state board has no authority at all), Carlisle’s website appears focused on education rather than “culture war” issues.

Steven Schafersman of Midland is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Click here for his campaign website.

You can learn more about all SBOE races and candidates at TFN’s election online HQ here.