Author Archive

Leo Calls It Quits

December 12, 2011

Another day, another major shake-up at the State Board of Education.

Incumbent Terri Leo, R-Spring, made a surprise announcement this morning that she will not seek re-election to the seat she has held since 2002.

During her tenure on the state board, Leo has been a major ringleader of the far-right faction. She has not shied away from being a mouthpiece for radical ideas — both during meetings and in the press. A round-up of Leo’s low-lights during her tenure on the board can be found here and here.

Her press release appears in full below.


DATE:  Dec 12, 2011

CONTACT: Terri Leo


It has been a great honor to serve you and the children of Texas as your conservative representative on the State Board of Education, District 6. My concerns, both as a public school teacher and as a mother, led me to make the sacrifices required to serve on the SBOE.

What an awesome opportunity and responsibility you have given me over the years. I want to thank all of you who have sacrificed with me to ensure that the District 6 seat has a conservative voice on the State Board of Education.

Those of you who know my passion for this office know that I would not step down from this seat unless I had complete confidence in someone else to take my place — someone who shares my same passion for quality and excellence in public education.  I have found such an individual in Donna Bahorich, and it is with great enthusiasm that I wholeheartedly endorse Donna for the State Board of Education, District 6.

Textbook adoptions are always a critical concern. Because of Texas’ prominent place in textbook adoption and educational policy, not only are our Texas children affected by the SBOE’s decisions; but also students throughout the nation are impacted.

Donna Bahorich will uphold conservative ideals in order to provide teachers and students with error-free and academically sound instructional materials.

Donna will resist efforts to lower academic expectations. She will work tirelessly to develop state curriculum standards that are concise, measurable, and rigorous so that our Texas students are ready for college and/or the workplace.

Donna Bahorich will only vote for Health textbooks that uphold traditional definitions of marriage and family and that are abstinence-based.

Donna Bahorich will make sure History curriculum standards are maintained that emphasize patriotism, our Founding Fathers, the free enterprise system, the U.S. Constitution, and American exceptionalism.

A strong conservative voice in the State Board of Education’s management of the multi-billion-dollar Permanent School Fund will always be essential.  Donna will vote consistently for traditional, conservative values in these decisions as well. The children of Texas deserve to have sound investments protecting their Permanent School Fund because these dollars ensure there will be future funding for instructional materials.  Donna will work diligently to keep the PSF from being diverted to other uses.

Because Donna has worked closely for years with members of the Legislature, she will know how to keep the lines of communication open between the SBOE and other elected officials. This is essential so that students’ best interests are served.

I can leave my SBOE seat at the end of my term (December 2012) knowing that Donna Bahorich will be able to step seamlessly into position.  Donna understands fully what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said, “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”  Donna is capable, equipped, committed, and passionate about the future of our Texas public school students.  Donna Bahorich is fully ready to serve as a member of the Texas State Board of Education, District 6.


Intolerant or Just Plain Ignorant?

December 9, 2011

A new gaffe-filled video of Rick Perry is making the rounds, this one from his editorial board interview with the Des Moines Register on Friday (video from Think Progress):

Think Progress immediately zeroed in on Perry’s reference to “eight unelected” judges on the Supreme Court. (The court has nine justices.) But it fails to mention his arguably more disturbing trampling of the Constitution and First Amendment. Referring to prayer in public schools, Perry says:

The independent school boards that oversee those should make those decision [sic], not government. Again, I mean the idea that we have to be so politically correct that there’s one family that says, listen, I don’t want my child — then that child ought to have the freedom to be, um, you know, can sit over there and play tic-tac-toe or what have you. But the issue is that for Washington to tell a local school district that you cannot have a prayer, and a time of prayer in that school, I think is offensive to most Americans.

Wow. There’s a lot of muddled thinking to unpack here.

First, Perry doesn’t seem to understand that local school boards ARE government. In Texas school boards are  made up of elected politicians who make all manner of policy decisions. If that’s not government, I don’t know what is. (They even set tax rates!)

Second, he’s basically saying here that these politicians should be able to compel students — in the captive environment of a classroom — to sit and listen to a sectarian prayer led by a teacher, principal or other authority figure. And the casual way he so dismissively adds that students who object can “play tic-tac-toe or what have you” shows how little he cares about the rights of families who don’t share the majority faith in their community.

Even more than his intolerant campaign ad earlier this week, this clip provides a window into where the governor stands on the issue of religious freedom — at least when it comes to Americans who don’t adhere to his brand of Christian faith. The question is: does this reflect some sort of cynical pandering to his conservative religious base, or a deep ignorance about the Constitution and First Amendment?

I’m not sure which explanation is more frightening.

Ask Yourself This

December 9, 2011

As we reported yesterday, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board voted to approve the “Calvary Hill” specialty license plate, which includes the words “One State Under God” and three crosses on a hill:

Just a little thought experiment — do you think the DMV board’s vote would have gone the same way if the proposed design looked like this:

Or this:

Or this:

I’m skeptical.

And I’m even more skeptical that the lobbyist for Focus on the Family-Texas would be in the papers arguing that the state should authorize those plates:

“Private speech, protected by the First Amendment, should not be subjected to second-class treatment. Anyone who opposed this plate either doesn’t know the law or has no respect for the First Amendment.”

But if this really is about the First Amendment, what’s the difference?

Low-lights in Social Studies

November 9, 2011

As we reported Monday, a new report prepared for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board slams the State Board of Education (SBOE) for their politicized, factually challenged re-write of social studies curriculum standards last year. The report is worth a read to see just how extensive the damage was to those standards — and to Texas students’ college readiness. But if you don’t have a time to read the whole thing, here are a few of the highlights low-lights:


Heads Up, Houston

November 7, 2011

Our friends at Thompson & Knight, LLP and the Houston Society of the Archaeological  Institute of America have asked us to extend an invitation to TFN members and supporters in the Houston area to attend an event next week:

The First Wild, Wild West:
Jamestown Archaeology and the Origins of Modern America

featuring Dr. Bill Kelso

5:30 to 6:30 pm
Tuesday, November 15

Thompson & Knight, LLP
333 Clay Street, Houston, Texas, 77002
( free parking at the Allen Center Garage)

The topic should be of interest to TFN Insider devotees:

“The lecture will explore the earliest successful English settlement in North America and remember those days before the Founding Fathers crafted the First Amendment and separated church from state. In this Thanksgiving season, we’re going all the way back to Jamestown, where the first representative government in English-speaking North America, the Virginia General Assembly, met inside the Anglican Church just outside the fortress walls where Pocahontas married John Rolfe in 1614.  There is no better way to see how much progress has been made during these last 400 years in America than to look with clear eyes and the best scientific tools available at the early colonial foundations of our modern world.”

The event is free and open to the public, but they do ask that you register to reserve your seat beforehand (which you can do by clicking here).

Is David Barton Telling the Truth?

October 6, 2011

That’s one of the questions at issue in Barton’s lawsuit. Barton is charging W.S. Smith, a writer for the Fort Worth Atheism Examiner, with defamation for labeling Barton a “liar” in a story published on the Examiner website last year.

But part of establishing a legitimate libel claim is, of course, demonstrating that the claim made about you is not true. Truth, as the saying goes, is an absolute defense against defamation.

In what is — to my mind — the most insightful profile of Barton yet written, Nate Blakeslee of Texas Monthly tells about a first-hand experience with Barton’s dishonesty. You be the judge of whether the label “liar” fits.

“WHAT SEEMS TO HAVE OFFENDED Barton most about his critics is their questioning not his competence but his honesty. (‘I mean, this is what we do,’ Cheryl [Barton’s wife] said, pointing to the stacks of material in the vault. ‘We’re not trying to fool anybody.’) But honesty has been a problem for Barton over the years and still is…

Perhaps the most embarrassing gaffe Barton has been accused of is an egregious mischaracterization of Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. Barton allegedly said that Jefferson referred to the wall of separation between church and state as ‘one-directional’ — that is, it was meant to restrain government from infringing on the church’s domain but not the other way around. There is no such language in the letter. This mistaken quote does not appear on Barton’s list of retractions, however, and when I asked Barton about it, he denied ever having misquoted Jefferson’s letter in any of his publications. He claimed instead that unspecified critics had merely heard him mention the ‘one-directional wall’ in a speech and that he had in fact been summarizing Jefferson’s general views on the First Amendment, not purporting to paraphrase or quote from the Danbury Letter. In other words, his critics had dishonestly taken his words out of context to make him look bad.

For whatever reason, Barton is not telling the truth. The mistake in question comes from a 1990 version of Barton’s video America’s Godly Heritage. Here are Barton’s exact words from the tape:

‘On January 1, 1802, Jefferson wrote to that group of Danbury Baptists, and in this letter, he assured them — he said the First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state, he said, but that wall is a one-directional wall. It keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government.’

In a later version of the video, Barton carefully fixed this mistake, so it’s not something he could have forgotten.”

Brandeis to Barton: Stop Being a Coward

September 22, 2011

Since David Barton probably won’t take correction from TFN’s press release, perhaps he’ll listen to celebrated Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. In his oft-cited concurrence in the Whitney v. California  decision, Brandeis points out what the Founding Fathers — whom Barton loves so much — thought about trying to “enforce silence” on speech you don’t like:

Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, selfreliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. (Emphasis added)

— Brandeis concurrence in Whitney v. California, 47 S. Ct. 641, 648-49 (1927)

Circling the Wagons for Perry

September 19, 2011

It’s become a staple of modern presidential elections — at the first hint of criticism from the right flank, a Republican puts out a call to religious-right kingmakers to testify to his or her religious bona fides.  So when Texas Gov. Rick Perry found his conservative credentials in question (over the HPV vaccine mandate and other issues that troubled social conservatives), the Perry campaign obviously pulled out the standard playbook.

But Gov. Perry doesn’t do anything modestly.

Where other candidates might simply get Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University to give them a platform to speak to social conservatives — something Gov. Perry did last week — the governor gets the religious pooh-bahs themselves to carry his message to the base.

Leading the charge: pseudo-historian David Barton of the Texas-based WallBuilders organization. Barton took to Twitter a few weeks ago to circulate a detailed rebuttal to a popular email listing “14 Reasons Why Rick Perry Would Be A Really, Really Bad President.” Most of these 14 charges have nothing to do with social issues (they focus primarily on Gov. Perry’s economic record), but Barton wants to make sure all his followers know that the governor no longer supports his controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

Remind us again, David, what this has to do with “educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country.” (Barton is widely credited online with authoring this document, though it is unsigned. But it reads more like Gov. Perry campaign talking points, which made me wonder if the real author wasn’t a lowly campaign staffer and Barton is just the puppet mouthing the lines.)


Unlikely Allies

September 1, 2011

Who knew evolutionary science had such an ardent defender in former (and infamous) Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams?

According to a letter from Williams to Gov. Rick Perry unearthed by the Austin American-Statesman, Williams tried to intervene with the governor at the outset of the State Board of Education’s contentious science curriculum revision in 2008:

“If Texas enters into a debate on the teaching of fundamental religious beliefs in public schools, it will tarnish our strong academic reputation, set our ability to attract top science and engineering talent to Texas back decades and severely impact our reputation as a national and global leader in energy, space, medicine and other high tech fields… Governor, this is a very important issue for Texas. I urge you to quell this issue quietly, firmly and permanently.”

Of course, Perry decided to go a different direction. His handpicked chairman, Don “Somebody’s Gotta Stand Up to Experts” McLeroy, led the state board in an embarrassing, drawn out public fight over the legitimacy of evolution — just as Clayton feared.

Religious Child Maltreatment

August 28, 2011

We asked Texas-based author — and crack reporter — Janet Heimlich to prepare a guest-post for TFN Insider about her just-released book exploring the tragic connection that sometimes exists between religion and child maltreatment. Heimlich raises an important question — do certain religious cultures in America pose a particularly big risk to the health and safety of children? And this meticulously researched book argues that, in fact, children who are raised in religious authoritarian cultures are at a high risk for religiously motivated maltreatment.

Sadly, Texas is no stranger to this unfortunate connection. The cautionary tale of fundamentalist preacher Lester Roloff and his homes for troubled teens is a case in point. TFN lobbied for years for the Texas Legislature to suspend the alternative (and lenient) licensing program the state maintained for faith-based child care providers like Roloff. That program was finally allowed to expire in 2001, and the Roloff Homes moved out of the state.

As the book reveals, this is a topic that deserves far more attention. We thank Janet — who blogs at Religious Child Maltreatment — for sharing this with our readers.


Submissive Wives and Presidential Politics

August 26, 2011

On the heels of its almost-endorsement of Rick Perry last week, David Lane and the American Renewal Project are back at it again. Our female readers might want to sit down for this one.

Lane is up in arms over a question asked of Michele Bachmann at a Fox News Republican presidential primary debate earlier this month:

“As President would you be submissive to your husband?”

It is a bit of a loaded question, but Lane isn’t arguing that the question is inappropriate or sexist — he’s upset that neither Bachmann nor any of the other candidates took the opportunity to make a case for full-blown wifely submission! So he decides to make the case for them.


Allen Parker Pwnd

August 25, 2011

Federal District Judge Sam Sparks has had just about enough of attorney Allen Parker’s attempts to grandstand on the pending sonogram lawsuit (courtesy of BurkaBlog):

However, the Court is forced to conclude that Allen E. Parker, Jr., the attorney whose signature appears on this motion, is anything but competent. A competent attorney would not have filed this motion in the first place; if he did, he certainly would not have attached exhibits that are both highly prejudicial and legally irrelevant; and if he foolishly did both things, he surely would not be so prejudicial as to file such exhibits unsealed. A competent attorney who did these things would be deliberately disrespecting this Court and knowingly shirking his professional responsibilities, offenses for which he would be lucky to retain his bar card, much less an intact bank balance.

For Mr. Parker’s sake, and because the Court has not time to hold a sanctions hearing–in part because it must take time out of deciding the actual legal issues in this case to address the self-serving entreaties of attention-seekers like Mr. Parker–the Court assumes Mr. Parker is as incompetent as he appears. Rather than sanction him, the Court simply does what Mr. Parker would have done if he was a competent professional, and seals attachment 7 to his motion.


Parker runs the San Antonio-based Justice Foundation, a spin-off of the Texas Public Policy Foundation that litigates on behalf of far-right causes — especially abortion.  He’s also been a prominent supporter of Gov. Rick Perry over the years and made news last month with his strident defense of Perry’s decision to limit his prayer rally to Christians only (h/t Right Wing Watch):

This is an explicitly Christian event because we are going to be praying to the one true God through His son, Jesus Christ. It would be idolatry of the worst sort for Christians to gather and invite false gods like Allah and Buddha and their false prophets to be with us at that time. Because we have religious liberty in this country, they are free to have events and pray to Buddha and Allah on their own. But this is time of prayer to the One True God through His son, Jesus Christ, who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Barton Helps a Brother Out

August 24, 2011

You might have heard about loony conservative radio host — and soon-to-be Texas resident — Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Courage” rally in Israel, which concluded earlier today. (The event featured the typical Beck crocodile tears, an appearance by San Antonio’s John Hagee and, apparently, show tunes.)  But did you hear who is footing the bill for any politician who wants to travel to Israel and attend the event? Our favorite faux-historian David Barton and his group WallBuilders. Credit Think Progress for having the curiosity to click the “Donate” button on the event’s webpage, which:

…takes visitors to WallBuilders website. The site accepts contributions to the ‘Restoring Courage — Israel’ fund:

‘If you want to help and show your solidarity with Israel, you can participate by helping to underwrite the cost of the Restoring Courage event in Jerusalem. All of the funds will go directly towards the production and expenses of the events associated with the Restoring Courage Tour in Israel.'”

Of course, this isn’t the first partnership between Barton and Beck (or the second or third). The two are practically BFFs. In fact, the house Beck reportedly just purchased in Westlake, Texas is a mere 38 miles from Aledo, where Barton’s WallBuilders is headquartered. Maybe they can have a sleepover and plan Beck’s next rally.

About That Nonpolitical Prayer Rally, Ctd.

August 24, 2011

The American Family Association isn’t the only one playing fast and loose with election law in their almost-but-not-really-endorsement of Gov. Rick Perry. The American Renewal Project — part of a shadowy network of state-based organizations, including the Texas Restoration Project, that supported conservative candidates in previous election cycles — does them one better.

Check out the email sent by the founder of the American Renewal Project on Saturday, August 13 — just hours after Perry formally declared his candidacy for President:

American Renewal Project (more…)

Honeymoon Is Over

July 25, 2011

Late last week Gov. Perry sent some not-so-subtle signals to the American Family Association (AFA) — his partner in the upcoming prayer-rally “The Response” — that he’s not ready to commit just yet, intimating that he might not be willing to speak at the much-criticized event. Then in another surprise, the governor decided to go on the record over the weekend with his opinion that  the New York law allowing gay marriage is just fine with him, since he’s a big state’s rights supporter:

“Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”

But isn’t that another slap in the face to his gay-hating buddies at the AFA? Yep.

“Gov. Perry himself is unapologetic in his support for natural marriage. We appreciate that he signed a symbolic measure to protect marriage in the Texas constitution. But perhaps he missed an opportunity here for him to stress the importance of natural marriage and the negative consequences for children when same-sex marriages are legitimized.”

That’s AFA’s director of issue analysis Bryan Fischer in an interview today with the Texas Independent. Fischer went on to reiterate AFA’s call for a federal marriage amendment that would effectively override any decision by individual states in this matter.

I wonder if both parties in this political marriage are starting to have second thoughts.