Archive for the ‘Thomas Jefferson’ Category

Debunking Another David Barton Lie

January 17, 2012

David Barton, head of the Texas-based, far-right revisionist organization WallBuilders, has been suggesting that Thomas Jefferson — one of the least religiously orthodox of American presidents — was really an evangelical Christian. Writer Craig Fehrman, however, squashes that tall tale in a Los Angeles Times op-ed about the “Jefferson Bible.” Fehrman writes that there were two such Bibles, both radical in their own ways. From the op-ed:

Today, the facts about “The Jefferson Bible” might seem like an impossible obstacle to anyone who wants to fashion Jefferson as a hero for right-leaning Christians — and America as a “Christian nation.” Instead, the book has been distorted to fit the religious right’s agenda.

There’s no better example of this than David Barton, an amateur historian who’s become quite popular with Perry, Santorum and Michele Bachmann. Barton loves archival flourishes — his Texas offices include a concrete vault filled with 18th century arcana — but his true concerns lie in the present. Though Barton admits that “The Jefferson Bible” often comes up as proof that its namesake wasn’t the evangelical Christian conservatives want him to be, he also says he can refute this. In a TV appearance in 2010, Barton fixated on Jefferson’s “Indians” title page, mixed in some unrelated material about Jefferson’s Indian policy, then pivoted to an outrageous fabrication: “He then gave it to a missionary,” Barton said of Jefferson and his Bible, “and he said, ‘Here, if you get this printed, and you use this as you evangelize the Indians.'”

There’s absolutely no evidence of Jefferson giving either version of his Bible to anyone other than his bookbinder. Perhaps it’s no surprise that last year, in Iowa, Newt Gingrich said, “I never listen to David Barton without learning a whole lot of new things.” That’s because Barton loves to cherry-pick a phrase and manipulate it support his side in a partisan, present-day debate.

Read the whole Fehrman piece here. We’ll also tell you that a new book about Jefferson by Barton and Glenn Beck (!)  is due out in April. The title is The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. No, we’re not making this up.


Cynthia Dunbar and the Laws of Nature

April 11, 2011

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.


Not Encouraging

November 13, 2010

We were worried that Carlos “Charlie” Garza, who defeated Democratic incumbent Rene Nuñez, would align with the Texas State Board of Education‘s far-right faction. A newspaper interview with the El Paso Republican isn’t encouraging.

According to the El Paso Times interview, which was published November 7, Garza thinks public schools should teach “multiple views” about evolution — regardless, apparently, of the mainstream scientific consensus — and supports efforts by anti-science board members to water down instruction on this foundational scientific concept:

“Creationism I believe is true. I believe there should be a good mix. I think what the board did was bring in a mix.”


Independence Day and Religious Freedom

July 4, 2010

We hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful Independence Day and recalling the freedoms on which our nation was founded and is still governed. So please take a few minutes to read the words that heralded the birth of our nation.

We also thought it would be appropriate to note the words of two of our greatest American thinkers and heroes, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Jefferson, of course, authored our nation’s Declaration of Independence. Madison is often considered the father of the Constitution. We recall the words of both (below) at a time when members of the Texas State Board of Education threaten one of our most cherished and important freedoms by insisting that public schools promote one particular religious perspective over all others. Indeed, some board members, like Cynthia Dunbar, and other influential political activists, like David Barton, even insist that our government, laws and elected officials essentially be judged by religious tests. Jefferson and Madison strongly argued otherwise.


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.


Another Stunning McLeroy Interview

March 27, 2010

Check out this fascinating Q-and-A with Texas State Board of Education member Don McLeroy, R-College Station, from The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto.

Money quote:

“Look, down here there are these groups from the far left. Whatever we do, they want to make it look like we are dumb morons. They’re very effective, dadgummit. Jefferson’s name was taken out of a list of Enlightenment philosophers in world history because he didn’t fit the period of the Enlightenment.”

Words fail us. So we’ll again let a real historian respond:

“There is absolutely no question that Jefferson is an Enlightenment figure of the first order.”

A Real Historian Responds

March 25, 2010

Why do members of the Texas State Board of Education insist on rejecting guidance from real experts? Case in point: far-right board members continue to argue that they were justified in removing Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, from a key curriculum standard for high school world history courses. Those board members claim that Jefferson, who argued that a “wall of separation between church and state” is essential to freedom, was misplaced in the standard.

The original standard read: “explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present.”

Cynthia Dunbar, one of the board’s most outspoken religious conservatives, persuaded the board to change the standard to this: “explain the impact of the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone.”

Board members have pointed to no historian to support the change. In fact, the board’s far-right members, such as Chairwoman Gail Lowe, have simply stated their own opinions about Jefferson as fact. Here’s what Lowe said last week:

“This was inappropriate placement of Jefferson ’s name. Jefferson was not himself an Enlightenment philosopher, although he was heavily influenced by the writings of these individuals.”

We decided it was past time that someone — especially if the board itself won’t do it — ask a real historian, instead of politicians, to weigh in on this. So we forwarded Lowe’s statement and the revised standard to Dr. Edward Countryman, university distinguished professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Prof. Countryman is an award-winning author and specialist on colonial America and the American revolution. Here is what he has to say:

There is absolutely no question that Jefferson is an Enlightenment figure of the first order. In my major-level Revolution course I’ve just taught Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia (1782), having previously taught his emergence piece (“A Summary View of the Rights of British America”) and the Declaration. We’ll continue the Notes on Tuesday dealing specifically with the tortured language on slavery and race.


McLeroy Has Trouble Explaining

March 22, 2010

Still not sure where the Texas State Board of Education is going with the social studies curriculum standards? Then listening to a radio discussion with board member Don McLeroy from last week might help.

McLeroy, R-College Station, spoke on Southern California public radio station KPCC last Monday about the social studies debate in Texas. (Click here for the archived audio clip.) Following are some excerpts from that program.

McLeroy spoke about the biblical principles he sees at work in America’s founding and focused on the Declaration of Independence. And it was clear that he hasn’t given up his obsession with attacking evolutionary science:


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.”


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

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.

Dunbar’s Distorted Views on Jefferson

March 19, 2010

The Texas State Board of Education is getting a lot of (well-deserved) flak for dropping Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the American Declaration of Independence, from the world history curriculum standards for public schools. And board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, who proposed striking Jefferson from those standards, is offering an absurd excuse for what she did.

Dunbar has been reminding reporters that Jefferson still appears in standards for American history and arguing that his inclusion in the world history standards was inappropriate:

“It’s just an issue of being germane. It was world history, and it was a list of political philosophers (from which Jefferson got removed). He’s mentioned in U.S. history and in government where you talk about the Founding Fathers and the political philosophers.”

Dunbar’s statement is both outrageously ignorant and deeply hypocritical.