Archive for the ‘Liberty Institute’ Category

Testing a Conspiracy Theory

February 8, 2012

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott raised eyebrows last month when he and State Board of Education members engaged in a discussion of the intense focus on testing students. Scott, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, called the overemphasis on testing at the state and local level a “perversion” of what accountability proponents had intended.

You might be surprised to know that religious-right groups also haven’t been big fans of state standardized tests. But over-testing hasn’t been their concern. We found in our files a Dallas Morning News article from March 5, 1996, (“Criticism about TAAS puzzles some officials,” no link) about opposition to the state’s standardized test at the time. Here’s an excerpt:

Kelly Shackelford of the Rutherford Institute says many of his clients think the tests are really a tool for “liberal, educratic elitists” who want to monitor students’ values and undercut their religious beliefs.

For example, in 1992 a state-administered test used a reading passage and graphs on the number of followers of different religions around the world. The parents complained that the question was designed to make all religions look equal, therefore undermining their children’s Christian beliefs.

They are also concerned that the questions ask children for their personal beliefs and that those beliefs may then be used against the students if they don’t conform to educators’ values.

“These questions are being asked in a secretive atmosphere,” Mr. Shackelford said. “A lot of people think it’s an attempt by these folks … to use the government to affect the minds of students and their belief systems.”

Some parents are afraid that the state is using opinion questions to spy on their children.

“Whoever has access to these students’ tests is of great concern to parents,” said [Cathie] Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum. “How do we know it’s not going to be shared with businesses? If a child has emotional problems when he’s 10 and he goes to apply to work at a large corporation when he’s 21, they’ll have his whole history.”

Have mercy. Tests are the secretive tools of “liberal, educratic elitists” engaged in anti-Christian, mind-controlling, school-corporate conspiracies? We’re kind of disappointed that Shackelford and Adams didn’t warn parents about the black helicopters delivering those subversive tests to schools across Texas.

You want to know what’s really scary? Shackelford — now head of Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family — and Adams — once again head of Texas Eagle Forum and recently chair of the Texas Republican Party — continue to wield political influence over Gov. Perry and substantially more than a few state lawmakers.

Hypocrisy and Women’s Health Care

February 7, 2012

The hypocrisy is pretty clear to see.

Last week religious-right groups expressed outrage that the Austin City Council passed an ordinance requiring so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to post signs telling visitors if they have no licensed healthcare professionals on site. Such facilities are typically not medical clinics and exist primarily to persuade pregnant women not to have an abortion. The ordinance would let a pregnant woman know upfront that she will not receive medical care at the facility.

But such a requirement is government-mandated speech, religious-right groups say, and thus a violation of the First Amendment. Samuel B. Casey of the Law of Life Project said the First Amendment protects the right of free speech as well as the right not to speak:

The government cannot “make a private citizen speak the government’s message. It doesn’t matter what the message is. What matters is that it’s the government’s message.”

Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family, similarly charged that the new Austin ordinance suffers from the same legal defects it claimed in an earlier, broader ordinance that the City Council repealed. The group said it opposes measures “requiring pregnancy centers, under the threat of criminal penalties, to disclose government-mandated information about their services at their front entrances.”

But Liberty Institute’s opposition to “government-mandated information” is rather selective. Consider the new Texas law — passed by the Legislature in 2011 — requiring a doctor to perform a sonogram on a woman 24 hours (in most cases) before proceeding with an abortion the woman has requested. The new law mandates that the doctor show the sonogram image and describe the fetus in detail to the woman, “including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of external members and internal organs.” The doctor must also make the heartbeat audible and describe it to the woman. Liberty Institute says this government-mandated message is just fine:

“Liberty Institute argues that HB 15 is consistent with Supreme Court and only requires the disclosure of truthful and accurate information to allow women to make informed decisions regarding their pregnancies.”

So let’s recap. According to religious-right groups, it’s a violation of the First Amendment if government requires a “crisis pregnancy center” to post a sign simply stating, truthfully, that it does not have a licensed healthcare professional on site. But they claim it’s not a violation of the First Amendment if government requires a physician to subject a woman to a detailed description of her fetus if she has requested an abortion.

This isn’t really about just the First Amendment. It’s about hypocrisy and using government to intrude in one of the most private, intimate and difficult decisions a woman can make. Some folks are for “limited government,” except when they’re not.

‘Tis the ‘War on Christmas’ Silly Season

November 30, 2011

Twinkle lights, harried shoppers, excited kids and special church pageants aren’t the only signs that Christmas is just around the corner. ‘Tis the season also for the religious right’s silly and hyperbolic fundraising appeals warning of a mythical “War on Christmas.”

Every year at this time we see a virtual avalanche of emails designed to scare Christians into thinking that “the left” and “secular humanists” are bent on erasing Christmas from America. Of course, a December drive down just about any street in America belies such an absurd claim. And never mind that tens of millions of Christians in this country continue, unimpeded, to attend Christmas church services and publicly celebrate the season in a myriad of big and little ways.

No, despite all the clear evidence that Christianity generally and the celebration of Christmas specifically continue to be practiced and celebrated freely in America, we still see nonsense like this in an email blast today from Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family:

No matter what anybody says, the Left really is conducting an unrelenting war on Christmas. We have the cases to prove that.

They know that if they can confuse enough teachers and public officials about what the Constitution does and doesn’t allow, win enough cases, and brainwash enough kids to self-censor their speech at Christmas, they’ll win.

And their victory won’t just be to squash Christmas celebrations.

They’ll be well on their way to squashing all public expression of faith, as they are trying to do everywhere, all year long.

And what can Christians do to protect their freedom to wish someone Merry Christmas? How can they end their allegedly relentless persecution in a nation in which about 80 percent of the population openly and freely shares their religious faith? Give money to fanatics like the people at Liberty Institute! From the group’s email:

To get ready to respond to this year’s expected onslaught, I am establishing a special Christmas Defense Fund to pay the costs to protect the right of Christians to exercise their free speech and religious liberty rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

My goal is to raise $110,000 for the Christmas Defense Fund. Will you please help?

The Christmas Defense Fund? Seriously?

Liberty Institute, by the way, is the same group that claims social studies teachers in Texas are anti-Christmas zealots because some suggested listing Easter instead of Christmas as an example of a Christian holiday in proposed curriculum standards two years ago.

You know, it is increasingly difficult to escape the conclusion that the folks at Liberty Institute think Christians are real saps.

Too Poor to Vote?

November 14, 2011

A Houston Tea Party group that made wild charges about “voter fraud” in Harris County last year apparently thinks folks should learn more about the ideas of a far-right extremist who believes that registering poor people to vote is un-American. We wonder whether Plano-based Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family that defended the King Street Patrtiots’ controversial “anti-fraud” campaign, will leap to the group’s defense again.

Talking Points Memo reports that King Street Patriots invited Matthew Vadum, author of Subversion Inc.: How Obama’s ACORN Red Shirts are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers, to speak at a lunch in Houston today. Vadum, TPM writes, thinks that registering poor people to vote is un-American and “like handing out burglary tools to criminals.” Moreover, he says, helping poor people vote “could lead to the destruction of the republic.”

Liberty Institute, which supported the State Board of Education’s politicization of new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools last year, associates with really fine people, yes?

‘Drug-Based Sex Education’ Redux

November 2, 2011

In our latest episode of “Liberty Institute Says the Darndest Things,” we look at the Focus on the Family Texas affiliate’s use of a fear-mongering term we’ve covered before, but this time we have audio of it.

We’re talking about “drug-based sex education,” an absurd construction used (maybe even coined) by LI’s Austin-based lawyer/lobbyist any time he argues against comprehensive sex education and for the failed abstinence-only programs that dominate sex education classes in Texas schools.
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A Lynch Mob Strategy

September 30, 2011

Lynch mobs don’t care about facts. And lynch mobs made up of politicians and pressure groups really, really don’t care about facts. What they care about is manufacturing rage to advance political agendas. And that brings us to the story of a gay teacher and one of his students in a Fort Worth high school.

Last week a Fort Worth mother charged that her 14-year-old son had been sent to the principal’s office and assigned to in-school suspension for simply telling a classmate that he’s a Christian and that “being a homosexual is wrong.” According to a Fox News story, the mother asked for help from Liberty Counsel,  a right-wing litigation group the Southern Poverty Law Center says focuses heavily on anti-gay activism.

The Fox story repeats claims that the student’s comment came when a discussion in German language class somehow shifted to religion and homosexuality in Germany. The student said his side comment to a classmate got him in trouble with the teacher:

“It wasn’t directed to anyone except my friend who was sitting behind me. I guess [the teacher] heard me. He started yelling. He told me he was going to write me an infraction and send me to the office.”

Matt Krause, the Liberty Counsel attorney helping the student and his mother, protested the suspension (a punishment that the principal reversed). The student “should never have been suspended for exercising his constitutional rights,” Krause said.

Liberty Institute, the Plano-based Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family, also weighed in. The group’s director of litigation, Hiram Sasser, claimed the student was simply exercising his First Amendment rights: “All the kid did is leaned over and said that that kind of lifestyle was against the Bible.”

David Barton, head of Texas-based WallBuilders (which argues against separation of church and state), got in on the act, pushing the story on his Twitter account: “Texas Boy Punishes Student for Opposing Homosexuality.”

And, predictably, notorious anti-gay hater Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association rejoiced when the school district  suspended the student’s teacher with pay while it investigated the incident: “Great news: teacher who got student suspended for biblical view of homosexuality has been suspended by school. You agree?”

But is this really a case of a public school trying to silence a student’s free speech? Or is it, rather, a textbook case of a lynch-mob strategy in which far-right groups manufacture a controversy to inflame passions and promote a political agenda?

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Liberty Institute: Cargill Hearts Liberals

August 29, 2011

We told you that we didn’t expect the far right to take it well when they heard that students would be treated to science, and only science, in new instructional materials approved by the State Board of Education. But this we did not see this coming — the far-right embracing an entirely new standard of success for SBOE chair Barbara Cargill: pleasing us.

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Liberty Institute: ‘So-Called Scientists’

July 27, 2011

The State Board of Education late last week approved science instructional materials that will be in classrooms for the next decade, a decision lauded by TFN because the materials are free of creationist anti-science propaganda. But that’s not what we’re here for in this blog post. We’re here for the sideshow that is the far-right Liberty Institute, the Texas offspring of Focus on the Family.

Prior to Thursday’s SBOE hearing, TFN held a press conference in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency building for which plenty of media showed. Aaaaand Liberty Institute’s lawyer-lobbyist showed up.

We don’t really care that he was there. It was a public building and it was a public event. But it’s what he said after the press conference that caught our attention. Approached by a reporter to get his side’s viewpoint, he referred to our speakers as “so-called scientists.”

We would normally let such a cheap swipe go, but the people we invited to speak for us took time out of their busy lives — and in one case traveled across the country — for the sake of the education of the children of this state. So, yeah, we’re going to stand up for them a little.

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Anti-Science Forces Try to Spin Loss

July 22, 2011

We wondered how the evolution-deniers would spin this disastrous end to their two-year campaign to insert bogus criticisms of evolution into Texas science instructional materials. Predictably, we didn’t have to wait long. They are absurdly claiming they somehow won.

The primary mouthpiece for the state’s anti-evolution lobby — the Texas-affiliate of Focus on the Family that calls itself Liberty Institute — tweeted this knee-slapper:

“Victory! SBOE unanimously votes to require changes to errors in science materials, related to evolution, before adoption.”

Since these folks don’t have a good grasp of what just happened, let’s review some facts here.

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Standing with Bigots and Extremists?

July 17, 2011

Why is Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of the right-wing Focus on the Family, standing with religious bigots and an extremist who hates the Statue of Liberty? It’s a question worth asking about a group that bills itself as “protecting freedom” and wanting students to learn how to be patriotic.

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Inventing ‘Facts’ Fails in Hearing on SBOE

April 14, 2011

When fanatics don’t have facts to back up their arguments, they invent them. We saw that during the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee’s hearing Wednesday on SB 1348. That bill and companion HB 3263 call for the appointment of teams of highly qualified scholars from Texas colleges and universities to review proposed public school curriculum standards for accuracy and to ensure that they prepare students for college.

This common-sense legislation appealed to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee. “It’s hard for me to vote against a bill that makes sense,” Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock said at one point.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller testified in support of the bill, explaining how the State Board of Education has politicized curriculum standards and appointed unqualified “expert” advisers simply because of their ideological views. The board has even refused to ask scholars at the state’s world-class universities to review the heavily revised standards before final adoption. Even a conservative think tank like the Fordham Institute has expressed its disgust with the state board’s blatantly politicized and inaccurate curriculum standards.

The facts-inventing began when Jonathan Saenz, the lobbyist for Liberty Institute (Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) testified in opposition to the bill. We’ll point out just three of the whoppers he told committee members. (You can watch the video — Saenz’s testimony begins at about the 1:20:00 mark here.)

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Give Us ONE Good Reason

March 30, 2011

Why wouldn’t you want a state entity to operate more efficiently and transparently? That is a question that no one had a good answer for Tuesday evening as the House Committee on Public Education took up HB 862, legislation sponsored by state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, that would place the Texas State Board of Education under periodic “Sunset review.”

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RR Groups Oppose Anti-Bullying Bill

March 2, 2011

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller testified yesterday at a Texas House Public Education Committee hearing (archived video of the hearing here) in support of legislation to help schools better protect their students from bullying. Tragically, unrelenting harassment and bullying have led some Texas students — like 13-year-old Asher Brown last September — to take their own lives. Religious-right groups opposed to the bill, however, decided to put politics ahead of protecting Texas students from harm.

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The Right Throws a Temper Tantrum

February 16, 2011

It didn’t take long for right-wingers to erupt in fury over the Fordham Institute’s new report about the disastrously bad social studies curriculum standards in Texas. Fordham’s report demolishes the State Board of Education‘s politicized new standards. The far right’s unhinged temper tantrum and lashing out that we’re seeing in reaction is revealing.

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Paranoia Will Destroy Ya

February 14, 2011

Once again Texans are getting a lesson in how the religious right uses lies and distortions to promote fear and bigotry. The newest lesson revolves around the Mansfield school district’s decision to accept a five-year, $1.3 million federal grant that largely funds elective classes teaching Arabic (alongside current classes in the district that teach Spanish, German, French, Russian, Latin and Chinese). Right-wing groups have been screaming that the classes will lead to pro-Islamic indoctrination in classrooms. Some have also used the program to make the equally absurd claim that an overbearing federal government is “forcing” students at the local level to learn how to speak Arabic.

One of the loudest screechers has been Kelly Shackelford of Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family. Last week Shackelford, who is a major supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, spoke on an Internet radio show about the Mansfield program, offering one distortion after another. The show’s host transcribed some of Shackelford’s comments here. Shackelford’s fear-mongering echoed bizarre complaints by other extremists on the right that Mansfield’s classes would lead to students learning about Islam:

“When you have requirements that not only teach the Arabic language, but the culture, the history, the traditions, the words that they use, you can’t help but teach Islam. Now you are going to be in a serious situation of how balanced or biased this is going to be.”

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