The Week in Quotes (Feb. 26 – March 3)

March 4, 2012 by

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

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More Zombie Lies from David Barton

March 2, 2012 by

It’s bad enough that David Barton has promoted mythical quotations of the nation’s Founders and other famous Americans that continue to be recycled by far-right politicians and activists. Now we see that Barton, head of Texas-based WallBuilders and pal of folks like Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich, is recycling right-wing myths that President Obama favors Islam over Christianity.

On Wednesday Barton posted a long essay calling Obama “America’s most Biblically hostile U.S. president.” The essay is essentially a long recitation of right-wing lies, distortions and myths that Barton claims demonstrate President Obama’s “hostility” toward “people of Biblical faith” and “Biblical values” and a “preferentialism for Islam.” You’ve no doubt seen many of these ridiculous claims repeated by right-wing commentators, on blogs and in spam email screeds over the past several years. So here’s just a sampling of the zombie lies Barton is promoting in his essay:

Barton says: “November 2011 – Unlike previous presidents, Obama studiously avoids any religious references in his Thanksgiving message.”

Barton is referring to the president’s Internet address about Thanksgiving. Considering that a public Internet didn’t exist until the 1990s, most previous presidents haven’t given such addresses. They have, however, issued proclamations — and so has President Obama. His Thanksgiving proclamation issued on November 16, 2011, explicitly mentions God and providence numerous times, including here:

“As we gather in our communities and in our homes, around the table or near the hearth, we give thanks to each other and to God for the many kindnesses and comforts that grace our lives.”

In addition, the president’s Internet address no less than four times notes the “blessings” for which Americans are grateful. One of the most common definitions of “blessing”: “a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.”

Barton also neglects to tell his readers that, as ABC News noted: “Three of the Republican presidential candidates – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – issued Thanksgiving statements that omitted any references to God. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry mentioned God in their statements.”

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Clayton Seeks SBOE Re-election After All

March 2, 2012 by

Texas State Board of Education incumbent George Clayton, R-Richardson, has decided to seek re-election to his seat after all. Clayton had announced on Monday that he would seek election to the District 112 seat in the Texas House of Representatives. In an email to a Dallas Morning News reporter today, however, Clayton says that the new court-ordered map of state House districts doesn’t include his residence in District 112:

“I had planned to withdraw from the SBOE race to run for House district 112. Unfortunately, the courts drew me out of that district. So, I cannot run for the house seat. I will remain a candidate for reelection to SBOE District 12.”

Clayton is opposed by three other Republicans in the GOP primary and one Democrat. The Texas Freedom Network’s SBOE election watch page includes lists of candidates as well other information on state board districts.

Culture War Casualty: Women’s Health Care

March 1, 2012 by

The religious right’s crusade to restrict women’s access to birth control and reproductive health care services is increasingly fueled by falsehoods and distortions. A press release yesterday from The Heidi Group, a Round Rock-based anti-abortion organization, is a classic demonstration of the problem.

The press release actually praises a measure passed by the Texas Legislature last year that could end the Medicaid-funded Women’s Health Program. That program provides services like breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control and STD prevention for 130,000 low-income and uninsured women across the state. Nearly half of those women get such services through Planned Parenthood clinics. But the new law bars providing any Medicaid money to doctors or clinics that are affiliated with organizations that provide abortions — a ban targeting Planned Parenthood even though that organization’s clinics offering services through the Women’s Health Program are legally and financially separate from facilities that offer abortion services.

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Bipartisan Rejection of Eagle Forum Hysteria

March 1, 2012 by

The Texas Eagle Forum strolled into the wrong committee hearing last month (video below).

It was on Feb. 17 when the Texas House Committee on Public Education met in Austin to take up interim charges at a hearing on charter schools. Speaking at the hearing, TEF Vice President MerryLynn Gerstenschlager asked lawmakers to pass legislation requiring charter school operators to be U.S. citizens.

Why? Fethullah Gulen.

We’ve seen this song and dance before. When your goal is to stoke irrational fears, it’s always best to have a bogeyman you can point to. And for a few years now, far-right pressure groups like TEF have settled on Gulen and Harmony Charter Schools.

It goes like this: Fethullah Gulen, who is a billionaire Turkish Muslim living in Pennsylvania, funds numerous charter schools across the country — including some in Texas — under the name of Harmony Charter Schools. Ergo: Muslim+schools+children=Indoctrination. At least, that’s the way TEF sees it.

But to hear TEF tell it, the problem is not that Gulen is Muslim. Says Gerstenschlager:

“There is an emphasis on Turkish culture. And that is fine. But it seems to be a common thread throughout these schools. And I wonder if they spend as much time teaching about American culture. That is my concern, that young impressionable children will become sympathetic towards Turkey and I wonder where their allegiance will lie.”

And that’s really the only evidence TEF has offered to support the claim that Gulen aims to indoctrinate — that Gulen is Turkish. As you’ll see, Gerstenschlager repeatedly denies that Gulen’s faith has anything to do with it, but she also claims that Gulen is tied to radical Islamism. Which begs the question: Would TEF even be at this hearing if Gulen were, say, a Christian born in Turkey?

But when Gerstenschlager testified at the committee hearing, both Republicans and Democrats would have none of it.

Who says the parties can’t agree on anything these days?

Far-right activists in Texas are so obsessed with Gulen that during the last legislative session they were willing to shut down government in order to push their divisive propaganda.

Whether they have a problem with all foreign-born billionaires allegedly using their wealth to influence America from within, or just the Muslim ones, is unclear. But we think it’s just the Muslim ones. All other ones (see Murdoch, Rupert) are probably fine.

Rush Limbaugh: She’s a Birth Control Slut!

February 29, 2012 by

You just knew that right-wingers have been wanting to say something like this since the controversy over birth control erupted a few weeks ago.

Last week Georgetown University law school student Sandra Fluke told a congressional panel why she believes health insurance plans  should cover birth control, even for women working at religiously affiliated institutions. Today Rush Limbaugh made it pretty clear that the right’s opposition to such a policy isn’t really about religious freedom:

What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.

The johns, that’s right. We would be the johns — no! We’re not the johns. Well — yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word.

OK, so, she’s not a slut. She’s round-heeled. I take it back.

So that’s what Limbaugh and other extremists on the right think about women, instead of their employers, making decisions about their own bodies and their own reproductive health.

SBOE Candidate Gets Far-Right Endorsements

February 29, 2012 by

Five of the Texas State Board of Education‘s far-right bloc have endorsed Marty Rowley of Amarillo in the Republican primary for the District 15 state board seat. Rowley’s campaign blog says board Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands; former chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas; Charlie Garza, R-El Paso; Terri Leo, R-Spring; and Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio have “unanimously” endorsed him. We don’t know what he means by “unanimous”: a sixth member of the board’s far-right bloc, David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, is not on the list of endorsers. (All of the board’s far-right members except Leo are seeking re-election this year.)

Rowley is seeking the board seat currently held by Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, who is not seeking re-election. Anette Carlisle, president of the Amarillo Independent School District’s Board of Trustees, is also running for the Republican nomination for that seat. Steven Schafersman of Midland is the lone Democrat running for the seat.

The Texas Freedom Network’s SBOE Election Watch page includes more information about the board elections and candidates.

(Thanks to TFN Insider reader abb3w for the heads-up.)

Graham Apologizes

February 29, 2012 by

Was that so hard, Franklin Graham?

From Religion News Service:

“I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama. I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election — for his faith has nothing to do with my consideration of him as a candidate.”

And it only took Graham a week to say this. Background from TFN Insider here.

SBOE Member Clayton Not Seeking Re-election

February 28, 2012 by

Yesterday Texas State Board of Education member George Clayton, R-Richardson, unexpectedly announced that he will not seek re-election to his seat. Clayton said he will instead seek election to the Texas House of Representatives.

Clayton won a surprise victory over longtime incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas, in the 2010 Republican primary for the District 12 state board seat. Religious-righters on and off the board have been critical of Clayton, who has generally voted with the board’s mainstream Republican bloc. Clayton publicly acknowledged last fall that he is gay after far-right groups like Golden Corridor Republican Women promoted a whisper campaign targeting his private life.

Clayton’s decision not to seek re-election leaves three Republicans — Miller, Pam Little of Fairview, and Gail Spurlock of Richardson — and Democrat Lois Parrott of Dallas in the race for the District 12 board seat.

Check out TFN’s SBOE election watch page for more information on candidates and board districts in the 2012 elections.

Anti-Gay Attacks on Houston Mayor Continue

February 28, 2012 by

Religious-right activists in Houston have failed miserably in their efforts to undermine the city’s mayor, Annise Parker. They relentlessly attacked Parker during her successful mayoral election campaign in 2009 and re-election in 2011. In 2009, for example, they argued that the election of a lesbian mayor would lead to a “gay takeover” of City Hall and would be “destructive to the family.” They have called her a “sodomite,” complained about “moral perversion and sin flowing from city hall,” and charged that Parker is imposing a “‘San Francisco Style’ Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, etc. agenda” on Houston. And now they’re attacking the mayor for exercising her right to free speech.

A megachurch pastor, Steve Riggle of Houston’s Grace Community Church, has publicly released a letter to Mayor Parker calling on her to resign if she doesn’t agree to stop speaking out in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples. Noting that Texans have approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Riggle says “it is very disturbing to me when you make statements as an elected official that are contrary to what the people have decided should be the foundational values and definitions that define our culture.” He also criticizes the mayor for referring to her life partner of 21 years as Houston’s “first lady”:

“I was deeply disturbed some months ago when a memo was circulated by an office connected to your office that titled your partner as the first lady of Houston. You should have corrected that since you know that title has been given only to the wife or husband of the mayor in the appropriate gender language.”

Parker is standing her ground. From the Houston Chronicle:

“I do my duty to uphold the state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. I swore an oath to that. I take that oath very seriously, but I have my First Amendment rights to free speech. We all have the right to do that and I’m sorry that they (Riggle and his supporters) don’t understand the Constitution.”

She’s absolutely right. And most Houston voters apparently don’t have a problem with Mayor Parker referring to her partner as the city’s “first lady” — they re-elected her. But you can bet religious-righters in Houston will continue their hate campaign anyway — it seems to have become their overriding obsession.

The Week in Quotes (Feb. 19 – 25)

February 26, 2012 by

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

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Heathen U

February 25, 2012 by

Rick Santorum just cannot help himself. Political pundits and strategists affiliated with his own party have been virtually screaming at him, telling him that if he wants any shot at winning in November he needs to quit the culture wars and stick to jobs, jobs, jobs. But, again, he just can’t help himself.

On Thursday, Santorum sat down with professional conspiracy theorist and right-wing radio talk show host Glenn Beck for a wide-ranging interview, during which he dropped this whopper:

I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely. The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.

The proof? For President Obama’s alleged nefarious motivations, Santorum offered none. For colleges as “indoctrination mills,” Santorum noted that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”

62 percent? Wow, that is a big number, isn’t it? You know what’s an even bigger number? 76 percent (more on this in a bit).

We were curious, so we went looking for the source of Santorum’s information and found that the Republican presidential candidate likes his facts picked like cherries and is likely guilty of a lie of omission.

The info appears to come from this study published in 2007 in the Social Science Research Council’s journal Social Forces (hat tip to PBS for pointing us to it).

The study does say that 64 percent — not 62 percent — Yikes! It’s even worse than Santorum thought! — of students enrolled in traditional four-year colleges report a decline in attendance in religious services. But what the study also says and that Santorum neglected to mention is this:

Yet, 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.

And this:

Simply put: Higher education is not the enemy of religiosity. Instead, young people who avoid college altogether display a more precipitous drop in their religious participation.

According to the very same study cited by Santorum, colleges as secularizing machines are about as real as the mythical “war on religion” and “war on Christmas.”

In fact, the study notes there are many other reasons why young adults become less religious, but that framed diploma hanging on their walls isn’t one of them.

Talking Points

February 24, 2012 by

From today’s TFN News Clips:

“I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely…. The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.”

— Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, speaking in an interview with Glenn Beck on Thursday.

Stay informed with TFN News Clips, a daily digest of news on issues involving religious freedom, civil liberties and public education. Subscribe here.

Bashing Gays for Votes

February 24, 2012 by

How quickly they turn on you. Tom Leppert won his 2007 race for Dallas mayor after supporters attacked his main opponent for being gay. Now Leppert is under attack by his opponents in the race for a U.S. Senate seat for “celebrating gay pride” while he served as mayor.

On Wednesday Leppert and other Republican candidates for the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Kay Baily Hutchison participated in a debate sponsored by the right-wing Eagle Forum at the Dallas Country Club. Among the candidates at the debate were Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, ESPN sports analyst Craig James and Driftwood mediator Lela Pittenger. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is also seeking the Senate seat, didn’t attend.

Leppert’s opponents criticized him for (gasp!) attending two gay pride parades when he was Dallas mayor. According to the Dallas Morning News, Cruz argued that Leppert’s participation in the events sent a wrong message to the public:

“When the mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade celebrating gay pride, that’s a statement. It’s not a statement I believe in.”

James moved beyond just criticizing Leppert and insisted that sexual orientation is a “choice.” From the Dallas Morning News story:

James, a rancher and former NFL player, said Leppert could have made a stronger stand for Christians by skipping the events. James said he would never take part in a gay rights parade.

“Our moral fiber is sliding down a slope that’s going to be hard to stop if we don’t stand up with leaders who don’t ride in gay parades,” he said. “I hear what you’re saying, Tom, but our kids out there need to see examples. … I know you’re a Christian. I’m not doubting you, Tom, but, man, you have to stand up.”

James went on to say that being gay was not innate.

“It’s a choice,” just as people choose to be in same-sex relationships, he said. “You have to make that choice.”

“God’s going to judge each one of us in this room for our actions,” he said. “But in that case right there, they are going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions.”

Leppert argued that he was just as opposed to gay marriage as the other candidates, but he defended his actions as mayor:

Leppert, who appeared visibly angry, said he marched in the parades because he was the mayor of all the city’s citizens. “My job as mayor was to represent everybody in this city. I visited groups that didn’t agree with what I said. I talked to groups that I didn’t agree with what they said, but it was my obligation to represent everybody,” he said.

“My role as a Christian is to reach out and touch everybody,” Leppert said. “I wish I could have made stands only when I was in a courtroom, but I didn’t. I was criticized time and time again for showing my faith and being open with it” while mayor.

Leppert won his mayoral run-off election in 2007 against openly gay Councilmember Ed Oakley. Cathie Adams, then and now the rabidly anti-gay president of Texas Eagle Forum, was particularly outspoken in her opposition to Oakley. She sent out an email to right-wing activists begging them to “PLEASE vote FOR Tom Leppert for Mayor!” Just days before the run-off election, Adams told the Houston Chronicle:

“Does Dallas want to be famous for having a lesbian sheriff and a homosexual mayor to compete with San Francisco? I don’t think that is where Dallas is going,” said Cathie Adams, leader of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum.

She said Oakley, who sits on the board of a company that operates four gay bars, has been low-key about it but “will push a gay agenda in every arena he can push it.”

Now, less than five years later, Leppert finds himself criticized for walking alongside gay folks after his election.

NCBCPS Is Still Hiding the Truth

February 23, 2012 by

The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools has a problem with the truth. Because of that, public schools using the NCBCPS classroom materials could end up having a problem with the law.

On Wednesday an online news journal in Ohio published a letter from an attorney representing the NCBCPS, E. Eric Johnston, to a committee searching for a curriculum local public schools to use for classes about the Bible. Federal courts ruled long ago that public school classes about the influence of the Bible in history and literature are constitutional so long as they aren’t devotional — in other words, they can’t turn a public school classroom into a Sunday school classroom.

A 2005 report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund — written by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University — revealed how poorly the NCBCPS  textbook failed to pass that test. The group’s textbook, which was riddled with factual errors and distortions, plainly presented faith claims as history. It also promoted a particular interpretation of the Bible — that of Protestant fundamentalism — over the perspectives of all others, including those of mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews. In short, the National Council’s religiously biased textbook was  inappropriate for use in public schools and in pretty much any school — public or private — in which teachers really care about factual accuracy.

Not surprisingly, Johnston’s letter to the Ohio school committee fails to acknowledge those fatal flaws in the NCBCPS textbook.  Even worse, however, is that the letter completely misleads the local committee when addressing lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the textbook’s use in public schools. For example, this is how Johnston describes a lawsuit in 2007 by parents against the Ector County Independent School District in the West Texas city of Odessa:

“(T)here have been vicious unsupported statements that our textbook has been and is the subject of constitutional litigation. The first case that is usually mentioned is Moreno, et al. v. Ector County Independent School District, No. M0-07-CV-39 (W.D. of TX, 2008). The initial complaint in the lawsuit alleged problems related to The Bible in History and Literature. However, NCBCPS was not a party to the litigation and there was no finding the textbook was improper in any manner. The lawsuit was a legal challenge concerning the practices of teachers in the district. It was alleged that school teachers were proselytizing and teaching improperly using the curriculum. The lawsuit was an ‘as applied’ challenge, meaning that there was nothing wrong with the textbook or the curriculum it presents, but that it was being improperly used. Because the teachers were acting improperly did not make the textbook improper. The lawsuit was resolved on grounds unrelated to the textbook and was dismissed on April 2, 2008.”

Johnston is technically correct that the NCBCPS was not a party to the Odessa lawsuit — parents there sued the school district. But Johnston’s portrayal of what the lawsuit involved is deeply misleading. In fact, the lawsuit specifically calls out the district’s use of the NCBCPS textbook, including here:

“The [Ector County ISD] Bible Course — both as designed by NCBCPS and as implemented by Defendants in two ECISD high schools during the 2006-2007 school year — is not educationally objective, but instead promotes and endorses religion generally and a particular religious interpretation of the Bible specifically.”

Johnston’s claim that “the lawsuit was resolved on grounds unrelated to the [NCBCPS] textbook” is also untrue. The school district agreed to stop using the NCBCPS textbook as a condition of the parents dropping their lawsuit. This is how an Associated Press story reported the agreement at the time:

“The Ector County Independent School District can continue to offer a Bible course but its course work will be developed by a committee of seven local educators appointed by the superintendent. The lawsuit challenged class material produced by the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.

At issue was a Bible course that teaches the King James version using material produced by the North Carolina group. The course uses the Bible as the students’ textbook.”

We’re really not surprised by Johnston’s misleading letter. The NCBCPS has been trying to hide the truth about the Odessa case ever since the lawsuit was resolved. Now its attorney is simply misleading yet another school district. But we wonder how an organization that claims to teach students about the Bible can so recklessly disregard one of the clear commandments found in Scripture — you know, the one about telling the truth.