Author Archive

A New Low for Fox News

April 3, 2012

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…

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TX SBOE Candidate Posts Anti-gay Views on FB

April 2, 2012

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.

Falling Behind on Science Education

March 30, 2012

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

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.

Anti-Evolution Politics Hurt Science Education

March 22, 2012

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

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.

David Bradley Goes Courting

March 20, 2012

Like Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst this month and Gov. Rick Perry for years, David Bradley is courting conservative evangelical pastors in his bid for re-election to office.

Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, will speak on March 27 at a luncheon for the Beaumont Area Pastor Council, which is affiliated with the right-wing Houston Area Pastor Council. From a Pastor Council email today:

“David has been a bulwark against liberal forces who want to rewrite our history books and insert liberal causes into school curriculum. These forces are also working diligently to get access to the Permanent School Fund for their own agendas.”

Bradley supported new social studies standards in 2010 that even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute criticizes as a “political distortion of history” with “misrepresentations at every turn.” One of the most divisive voices on the state board, Bradley also opposes sex education, wants to dumb-down instruction on evolution in science classes and rejects teaching social studies students that the Constitution protects separation of church and state. In 2008 he boasted that the state board “spanked” teachers who disagreed with its controversial decisions on curriculum standards. But the Pastor Council emails praises Bradley as supposedly being “on the front lines for our children and grandchildren.”

Bradley faces Republican Rita Ashley of Beaumont in the Republican primary on May 29.

Read more about the State Board of Education elections this year at TFN’s SBOE election online HQ.

Dewhurst to ‘Brief’ Pastors on Voter ID Law

March 20, 2012

We told you earlier this month that Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seems to be taking a page out of Rick Perry’s political handbook in his quest for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate this year. The lieutenant governor is scheduled to speak on Friday at a “private briefing” for pastors in Houston. Over the years Gov. Perry has made such “briefings” a key part of his political strategy to court the electoral support of conservative evangelical pastors. But we thought it was interesting how today’s email from the Texas Pastor Council (another name the Houston Area Pastor Council uses) highlights just one of the so-called “critical issues” pastors will hear Dewhurst discuss on Friday:

Pastors, this is your opportunity to receive a private briefing from our Lieutenant Governor on critical issues such as the controversial Voter ID law. We will also be briefed by Pastor Steve Riggle about our stand for traditional marriage and what it means to the city, state, and nation!

Riggle has been involved in an intense anti-gay attack campaign against Houston’s openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker. But event organizers think pastors are particularly interested in having Dewhurst “brief” them about the Texas voter ID law.

Well, maybe they are. But we wonder whether any of them will ask the lieutenant governor what he thinks Jesus would say about a law that will make ballot access harder especially for low-income minorities and the elderly, all of whom are least likely to have driver’s licenses or other state-issued photo identification.

Poll Respondents: WHAT War on Religion?

March 16, 2012

The religious right insists that faith is under siege in America. Far-right leaders and pressure groups have pushed the “war on religion” trope for years now. Texas Gov. Rick Perry even used it during his doomed presidential campaign last December. Most recently, the right has argued that the Obama administration’s policy on insurance coverage for contraception is part of this mythical “war.”

But a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that most Americans aren’t buying it. According to that poll, Americans by a 56%-39% margin say they don’t think religious liberty is under threat in America today. Of those who do believe religious freedom is threatened, only 6 percent mentioned the current debate over health insurance coverage for birth control. Others mentioned “hostility towards Christians/religion” (10 percent), “removing religion from the public square” (23 percent) and “general government interference in religion” (20 percent).

David Barton, president of Texas-based WallBuilders, plays especially on such fears. You can see that in Barton’s recent essay absurdly claiming that Barack Obama has been “the most Biblically hostile” American president.

The PRRI poll also shows that a majority of Americans support requiring that employers, including religiously affiliated employers other than churches and other places of worship, include coverage for contraception in their health insurance plans for employees. And 52 percent of Americans (including 59 percent of Catholics and 65 percent of white mainline Protestants) support the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples.

So the next time you hear folks on the right shrieking about a “war on religion” in America, just remember that most Americans know better.

You can read more about the poll on the PRRI’s website here.

TFN Launches SBOE Elections Online HQ

March 15, 2012

Ignorance isn’t a Texas value, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the State Board of Education.

The state board approves textbooks and curriculum standards for Texas public schools. That’s a lot of power. But for years now, right-wing ideologues on the board have censored American history, rejected established science and ignored the recommendations of teachers and scholars. In fact, far-right board members have rallied around former board chair Don McLeroy’s bizarre declaration that “somebody’s gotta stand up to experts!”

For supporters of public education, it’s been maddening. And for most Texans, it’s been downright embarrassing.

So enough. It’s time for a new State Board of Education.

Because of redistricting, all 15 seats on the state board are up for election this year. To help educate voters about the board and how they can work to change it this year, the Texas Freedom Network today launched an online SBOE Elections HQ (tfn.org/educate). There you’ll find information about the board and its history, candidates in this year’s elections and an electoral analysis of each state board district.

More importantly, you can sign on to a pledge to help change the state board this year. TFN will give you the resources you need to get informed about the state board, talk to friends and family about the board elections this year and vote for candidates who will focus on kids, not politics and personal agendas.

So take the pledge and work this year for a new State Board of Education in Texas.

Pat Robertson OKs Marijuana, Oral Sex

March 15, 2012

Seriously. Is the apocalypse upon us?

Last week religious-right leader Pat Robertson declared that marijuana should be legal and treated like alcohol. Then yesterday he waded into the question of whether oral sex is sinful. From our friends at Right Wing Watch:

Food Stamps Recipients = Wild Animals?

March 14, 2012

Former Texas legislator Rick Green, a speaker for David Barton’s Texas-based WallBuilders organization and Barton’s sidekick on the daily WallBuilders Live radio program, clearly has a pretty low opinion of people who receive food stamps. In a repellent Facebook post  last week (image below), Green compared people who receive that government assistance to wild animals who become dependent on food from humans visiting national parks:

What a country…

The food stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service asks us to “please do not feed the animals” because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.

Never mind that the country is digging itself out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Most of us — but apparently not Green — might expect that public aid for struggling families would be higher than usual. What’s really astonishing here is the sneering contempt that Green has for those families.

Green and Barton claim WallBuilders promotes Christian values and what they see as America’s Christian heritage. We fail to see such values in Green’s disgusting attack on the poor and unemployed.

Rally in Austin Against the War on Women

March 13, 2012

For decades the religious right has tried to turn back the clock on women’s access to family planning services. That misguided crusade is now putting even basic health care like pap smears and breast exams at risk for low-income, uninsured women. Tonight supporters of women’s family planning and other health services will rally in Austin to push back against the right’s backward agenda.

Cecile Richards, who founded the Texas Freedom Network and now leads the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, will speak at the rally in front of the Texas Capitol at 11th and Congress. The rally is from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Click here for more information about the rally, which is part of a Planned Parenthood bus tour with stops in 16 Texas cities across the state.

It’s stunning that we’re still having to fight for basic family planning information and access to contraception for women in the 21st century. Abstinence-only extremists, for example, still insist that public schools keep teens ignorant about responsible pregnancy and STD prevention. Now state and federal lawmakers want to use government to impose their personal religious beliefs about contraception on women of all ages. In fact, one Texas legislator last year openly acknowledged that he and his colleagues are engaged in an all-out “war on birth control.” Now we know that he wasn’t exaggerating.

In addition to attending tonight’s rally in Austin, you can support responsible, evidence-based sex education by signing the Education Works petition here. TFN can also give you the tools and support you need to change sex education policies in your local community by joining a School Health Advisory Council.

The Bible and Climate Change

March 12, 2012

One of the most vocal and cynical deniers of climate change science, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., says the Bible backs up him up:

“Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

Hat tip: Right Wing Watch

‘The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today’

March 12, 2012

On Saturday our Houston friends from Americans United for Separation of Church and State are screening an award-winning documentary about a landmark First Amendment case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948. The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today tells the compelling personal story of the late Vashti McCollum and how her efforts to protect her 10-year-old son led to one of the nation’s most important court cases protecting separation of church and state in public schools.

Jim McCollum will be a special guest at the screening of the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning documentary. The event is at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, at the Rice Media Center. The media center is on the south side of the Rice University campus in Houston. Admission is free.

The Boniuk Center for the Study of Religious Tolerance at Rice University and Rice Cinema are co-sponsoring the screening.

Click here for a flier with more information on the Houston event. You can read more about the documentary itself here.