Former Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar is still proud of the way she helped vandalize the new social studies curriculum standards for the state’s public schools last year. She’s especially happy that new standards for high school government classes require that students learn about “the laws of nature and nature’s God” in a section on the Declaration of Independence. The previous standard had instead referred to “natural law” and “natural rights.” Dunbar believes the difference is important.
Religious Right Watch from People for the American Way has a video clip of Dunbar talking about this last weekend during a conference for religious-right activists at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (where she teaches law).
Dunbar tells her audience that America today is largely a “biblically illiterate society” filled with “Christians in name only.” But now Texas students will be required to learn about what she believes is the foundation for our nation’s laws:
“Our laws reflect what our underlying worldview is. That’s why we were framed as a nation on the ‘laws of nature and nature’s God.'”
Of course, those are the words Thomas Jefferson used in the Declaration of Independence. Says Dunbar:
“What are the laws of nature and nature’s God? Why did Jefferson pick that term as opposed to natural law, which was the Enlightenment, French Revolution standard? The ‘laws of nature’ is the will of our Maker, and because of the fallen state of man, we have to have the laws of our nature’s God revealed through the Holy Scripture.”
Let’s leave aside the significance of changing “natural law” and “natural rights” to “laws of nature and nature’s God.” It’s clear what Dunbar is trying to do. But we remain puzzled by Dunbar’s peculiar beliefs about Thomas Jefferson. She suggests that Jefferson consciously chose to reject in the Declaration of Independence language and philosophies she assigns to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
In fact, during the debate over the world history standards last year, Dunbar wanted to remove Jefferson from a list of influential Enlightenment thinkers. She argued that he simply wasn’t one. But a respected professor of American history at Southern Methodist University sharply disagreed. Moreover, Jefferson also served as U.S. minister to France during the French Revolution, a revolt he supported. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence, written more than two decades earlier, inspired French revolutionaries.
Truth is, Dunbar is not particularly interested in requiring that students learn what mainstream scholarship says about the founding of America. She simply wants schools to teach her own personal beliefs about that founding and what that means for law and politics in America today.