Archive for the ‘church and state’ Category

‘Christian Land Governed by Christian Principles’

May 21, 2010

Even before the Texas State Board of Education took up its expected debate today over what students will learn about separation about church and state in their social studies classrooms, board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, made her position clear. She offered the board’s opening prayer this morning and removed any doubt about what she and other far-right board members want students to learn: America’s laws and government should be based on the Christian Bible.

Laying out in blunt language the “Christian nation” vision of American history that the board’s powerful bloc of social conservatives espouses, Dunbar threw down the gauntlet:

“I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses.”

“Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England…the same objective is present — a Christian land governed by Christian principles.”

“I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.”

You will recall that Dunbar, in her 2008 book, One Nation Under God, argued that the Founders created “an emphatically Christian government” (page 18 of her book) and that government should be guided by a “biblical litmus test” (page 47). Even more damning, this State Board of Education member wrote that public education is a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion,” tyrannical and unconstitutional.

And today she will help decide what the next generation of Texas students will learn about separation of church and state in their public school classrooms.

UPDATE: This isn’t the first time Dunbar has used prayer and religion to push an agenda.

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Poll: Texans Back Church-State Separation

May 20, 2010

We just released results of a statewide poll showing that a big majority of Texas likely voters believe separation of church and state is a key constitutional principle. In addition, an even larger majority believe teachers and scholars, not politicians, should make decisions about curriculum standards and textbooks in public schools.

Both are key issues in the current debate at the State Board of Education over proposed new social studies curriculum standards in Texas public schools. Check out our press release after the jump.

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Did Sarah Palin Join the Texas SBOE?

May 10, 2010

The former half-term Alaska governor must make hearts flutter on the Texas State Board of Education:

“Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant, they’re quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments. . . . What in hell scares people about talking about America’s foundation of faith? . . . It is that world view that involves some people being afraid of being able to discuss our foundation, being able to discuss God in the public square, that’s the only thing I can attribute it to is some fear of some people.”

The Far Right’s ‘Big Lie’

April 5, 2010

One of the major goals of the “big lie” tactic is to so discredit an opponent that his or her argument on an issue — no matter how reasonable and sound — has no chance of breaking through the rage of the self-righteous, intolerant and poorly informed. The debate over curriculum standards in public schools has put a spotlight on one of the biggest and most vicious lies of the far right: that opposing efforts to promote narrow religious doctrine in public schools somehow makes one a radical leftist who is hostile to religion in general and Christianity in particular.

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Pointing Fingers and Shading the Truth

March 29, 2010

Texas State Board of Education members are pointing fingers at everyone but themselves for the debacle over revising social studies curriculum standards. In new interviews with the Southern Baptist TEXAN, board Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, and fellow member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, are complaining that reporting about the board’s actions have been inaccurate. And they point their fingers at the Texas Freedom Network for causing the problems.

So let’s do a little fact-checking of Lowe’s and McLeroy’s comments, shall we?

Lowe tells the TEXAN:

“Nowhere in our social studies curriculum standards is America referred to as a Christian nation.”

Lowe is technically correct — even these board members know that inserting a blatant “Christian nation” standard would lead almost immediately to a court battle that they would lose. What she doesn’t say, however, is that the board’s far-right members have seeded the standards with distortions that suggest the nation’s origins and constitutional foundations lie in the (Christian) religious beliefs of the Founders.

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More Confusion from Don McLeroy

March 26, 2010

On Thursday Don McLeroy once again had difficulty explaining why the Texas State Board of Education has made so many bone-headed decisions in overhauling social studies curriculum standards for public schools.

McLeroy, a College Station Republican who lost his bid for re-election to the board in the GOP primary earlier this month, spoke to listeners of On Point, a program produced by Boston NPR station WBUR. (Hat tip to TFN Insider reader James F for the heads-up about the show.)

McLeroy had a particularly hard time justifying why in the world the board removed Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard about Enlightenment thinkers. In fact, he suggested adding Jefferson back in to the world history standards. But along the way he inadvertently admitted spending so much time wrecking the rest of the standards document that he really didn’t realize taking Jefferson out in the first place was foolish.

“Actually, when you’re in the process of making lots of amendments, you’re busy, you’re all day long. When you have time to reflect, maybe you’ll change your vote. I think all politicians do that.”

Indeed. But isn’t this yet another example of why it’s unwise for the board’s politicians to be micromanaging the work of teachers and scholars who spent nearly a year developing the social studies standards?

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What Does Dunbar Really Want to Teach?

March 21, 2010

Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has been defending her action removing Thomas Jefferson from world history curriculum standards by disingenuously claiming his inclusion simply wasn’t “germane.” And during this month’s state board meeting, she complained that critics were wrong in charging that she and other far-right board members were trying to force their religious views into public school classrooms.

But the truth often has a way of finding its way to light: Dunbar opposes teaching world history students about Jefferson because she defiantly opposes his conviction that mixing government and religion is a threat to freedom for all.

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars notes that Dunbar is scheduled to appear  on May 1 at a rally in the nation’s capital (May Day 2010: A Cry to God for a Nation in Distress). She reportedly will call on God to forgive America for supposedly removing Him from American schools. Here is how rally organizer Janet Porter, founder of the fringe religious-right organization Faith2Actiondescribes what Dunbar will tell rally participants:

“She is going to come to May Day and repent for how we have taught our children lies, not only in revisionist history but also evolution, how we’ve kicked God out of school. She will repent on behalf of the education system, and she’s also going to welcome God back in.”

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Lowe’s Bogus Explanation on Jefferson Deletion

March 19, 2010

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

SBOE Chair Lowe’s Explanation for Dropping Jefferson from Standard Doesn’t Hold Water

TFN President Kathy Miller Points Out the Distorted History Promoted by Board Extremists

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 19, 2010

Texas State Board of Education chairwoman Gail Lowe’s explanation for the board’s deletion of Thomas Jefferson from world history curriculum standards is deeply disingenuous, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today.

TFN President Kathy Miller was responding to a statement from Lowe released today by the Texas Education Agency. Lowe criticized media coverage of the board’s vote last week to strip Jefferson from a standard requiring students to study great political thinkers who influenced political revolutions from 1750 to the present. Lowe notes that Jefferson remains in American history and government standards. But that misses the point, Miller said.

“This isn’t a contest to see how many times someone is included in the standards,” Miller said. “The issue here is why the board would not want students to learn that people struggling for freedom around the world have looked for more than two centuries to Thomas Jefferson and his ideals for inspiration. This is yet another example of board members making decisions about things they clearly don’t know anything about instead of listening to teachers and scholars who do.”

Scholars have long noted Jefferson’s influence on political revolutionaries fighting for freedom in Europe and the Americas. The Library of Congress says this about Jefferson:

“Recognized in Europe as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson quickly became a focal point or lightning rod for revolutionaries in Europe and the Americas. . . . Until his death Jefferson was convinced that ‘this ball of liberty . . . will roll round the world’ aided by the beacon of the Declaration of Independence. . . . Thomas Jefferson often consulted with Lafayette during the drafting of this French declaration of rights in July 1789. Jefferson’s immersion in the French Revolution and his influence on the Republican leaders can be seen in the surviving documents.”

Miller noted that the board’s religious conservatives replaced Jefferson, who spoke of the “wall of separation” between church and state as critical to freedom, with references to theologians Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.

Statement on Texas Curriculum Debacle

March 12, 2010

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller released the following statement after a divided State Board of Education gave preliminary approval to new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools:

“Some board members themselves acknowledged this morning that the process for revising curriculum standards in Texas is seriously broken, with politics and personal agendas dominating just about every decision. We could probably choose a handful of names at random from a phone book and find folks who demonstrate more competence and responsibility in deciding what nearly 5 million Texas kids learn in their public school classrooms.”

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SBOE Rejects Religious Freedom in Standards

March 11, 2010

Today the Texas State Board of Education voted to reject an amendment to social studies curriculum standards that would require students to learn that the nation’s Founders “protected religious freedom by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” The party-line vote — 10 Republicans against and 5 Democrats in favor of the amendment — strips away any pretense that this board respects one of the most important freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Here is the exchange that just occurred on the board:

12:28 – Board member Mavis Knight offers the following amendment: “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” Knight points out that students should understand that the Founders believed religious freedom was so important that they insisted on separation of church and state.

12:32 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar argues that the Founders didn’t intend for separation of church and state in America. And she’s off on a long lecture about why the Founders intended to promote religion. She calls this amendment “not historically accurate.”

12:35 – Knight’s amendment fails on a straight party-line vote, 5-10. Republicans vote no, Democrats vote yes.

12:38 – Let the word go out here: The Texas State Board of Education today refused to require that students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others. They voted to lie to students by omission.

Here was the amendment again: “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” And this board, on a vote of 10-5, said they don’t want Texas students to learn about this basic protection for the religious freedom of everyone in America.

Voting on Religious Freedom in the GOP

February 14, 2010

Primary Day on March 2 will provide a good indication of just how much Texas Republicans really respect religious freedom in America.

Republican primary voters will be able to register their opinions on five resolutions — a proposed voter identification law, a measure limiting government growth, a call for cuts in federal income taxes, a requirement forcing women seeking an abortion first to undergo and view a sonogram, and this one:

Ballot Proposition #4: Public Acknowledgement of God

The use of the word “God”, prayers, and the Ten Commandments should be allowed at public gatherings and public educational institutions, as well as be permitted on government buildings and property.

YES or NO

We wonder if, while they’re at it, Republicans will also let us know their opinions about other freedoms protected by the First Amendment: speech, press, the right of peaceful assembly and the right to petition the government.

The Battle over History and Education

January 12, 2010

We have seen a series of stories in the last few days about the coming debate at the State Board of Education this week on proposed new social studies curriculum standards in Texas public schools. The Austin American-Statesman yesterday looked at efforts by conservative evangelicals to require that students learn that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical principles. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also previewed this week’s meeting here.

But one of the best overviews of the looming fight comes in the Texas Tribune today. The piece offers an excellent examination of the right-wing political extremism that has infected the curriculum revision process and who is behind it. (Go ahead. Guess.)

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The Year in Quotes: Social Studies

January 4, 2010

We’ll finish out our series on the craziness we heard from the far right in 2009 with quotes on the revision of social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. The State Board of Education will hold a public hearing on the proposed new standards on January 13 in Austin. TFN Insider will be live-blogging during that hearing.

Click on these links for other posts in our The Year in Quotes series: science, kooky, sex education, religious freedom, gay bashing, potluck nuttiness. Now on to social studies:

“That, sir, my friend, is why I contend that there is an overrepresentation of minority content. And that’s all TEKS driven. The specific TEKS say ‘the problems of women,’ ‘the problems of immigrants,’ ‘the problems of minorities.’ There is nothing in the current TEKS that talks about celebrating America’s positive successes.”

– Bill Ames, a far-right member of a social studies curriculum (TEKS, or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) writing team, complaining that too many minority figures are included in history standards,  TFN Insider, May 22, 2009

“My own personal guess is that the reason (César Chávez) was included in (the Texas social studies standards) is that it reflects the leftist bias of the people who wrote the guidelines last time. I don’t know; I don’t know who wrote them. But I’m suspicious of that. … In comparison with [other figures], Chávez doesn’t warrant much attention. … He’s just not real high on my list.”

— Peter Marshall, head of Peter Marshall Ministries and a member of the State Board of Education’s panel of social studies “experts,” discussing his reasoning for wanting to remove César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall (no relation) from social studies curriculum standards, Austin Chronicle, July 24, 2009

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The Year in Quotes: Religious Freedom

December 29, 2009

So what do religious-righters think about religious tolerance and keeping government separate from religion? More memorable quotes from 2009:

“There is no dialogue, no common ground, no reaching across the aisle in this battle. We are not called to build bridges to Islam. We are called to storm the gates of hell — to defeat the false god of Islam with the unsheathed Word of God and to set people free from the monstrous tyranny and bondage of this religion birthed in the deepest pits of hell.”

— The Rev. Flip Benham, director of the extremist group Operation Rescue/Operation Save America, writing about a planned gathering of American Muslims in the nation’s capital on Friday, TFN Insider, September 24, 2009

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Talking Points

December 8, 2009

From today’s TFN News Clips:

“This is a seed sowing ministry. God does the harvesting Himself.”

— Bill Spencer, a teacher and football coach in Tennessee’s Hamilton County public school district, discussing his district’s privately funded Bible education program. Spencer, who also coaches football, said he believes God called him to teach Bible history.

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