Florida

The Perils of Teaching the Bible in Public Schools

Rob Boston at Americans United notes that the Arkansas House just voted to require the state’s Education Board to approve elective classes about the Bible if they meet appropriate standards.  The Supreme Court has said the Bible may be taught about in public schools when “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”

But teaching about the Bible without teaching it religiously is not an easy thing to do. It requires carefully designed curricula, well-intentioned and well-trained educators, and a commitment to meaningful oversight.  People For the American Way was part of a religiously and politically diverse group of organizations that worked together to produce the 1999 publication The Bible in Public Schools, a First Amendment Guide. That guide emphasized that how any such course is taught will determine whether it passes constitutional muster:

When teaching about the Bible in a public school, teachers must understand the important distinction between advocacy, indoctrination, proselytizing, and the practice of religion – which is unconstitutional – and teaching about religion that is objective, nonjudgmental, academic, neutral, balanced, and fair – which is constitutional.

But that’s not how if often works in practice. In 2000, People For the American Way Foundation published a scathing expose, The Good Book Taught Wrong: Bible History Classes in Florida Public Schools. The PFAW Foundation investigation found that “Bible History” classes were often being taught more like Christian Sunday School classes from a sectarian, Protestant perspective. Bible stories were treated as literal history. Among lessons and exam questions asked of students:

  • "If you had a Jewish friend who wanted to know if Jesus might be the expectant [sic] Messiah, which book [of the Gospels] would you give him?"
  • "Compose an explanation of who Jesus is for someone who has never heard of Him."  
  • "Why is it hard for a non-Christian to understand things about God?"
  • "What is Jesus Christ's relationship to God, to creation, and to you?"
  • "Who, according to Jesus, is the father of the Jews? The devil."

That expose led Florida officials to yank those classes and revamp the curricula.

But more than a decade later, similar problems persist, as the Texas Freedom Network documented in a January report that found classes designed more to evangelize students to a literalist, fundamentalist view of the Bible rather than to teach about its role in literature and history. Included in the lesson plans examined by TFN were characterizations of Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion, Christian-nation approaches to US history, and material “explaining” racial origins via the sons of Noah.

Are Arkansas legislators and education officials prepared to invest in the development of curricula, the training of educators, and meaningful oversight into how the classes are taught?

The Perils of Teaching About the Bible in Public Schools

Rob Boston at Americans United notes that the Arkansas House just voted to require the state’s Education Board to approve elective classes about the Bible if they meet appropriate standards.  The Supreme Court has said the Bible may be taught about in public schools when “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”

But teaching about the Bible without teaching it religiously is not an easy thing to do. It requires carefully designed curricula, well-intentioned and well-trained educators, and a commitment to meaningful oversight.  People For the American Way was part of a religiously and politically diverse group of organizations that worked together to produce the 1999 publication The Bible in Public Schools, a First Amendment Guide. That guide emphasized that how any such course is taught will determine whether it passes constitutional muster:

When teaching about the Bible in a public school, teachers must understand the important distinction between advocacy, indoctrination, proselytizing, and the practice of religion – which is unconstitutional – and teaching about religion that is objective, nonjudgmental, academic, neutral, balanced, and fair – which is constitutional.

But that’s not how if often works in practice. In 2000, People For the American Way Foundation published a scathing expose, The Good Book Taught Wrong: Bible History Classes in Florida Public Schools. The PFAW Foundation investigation found that “Bible History” classes were often being taught more like Christian Sunday School classes from a sectarian, Protestant perspective. Bible stories were treated as literal history. Among lessons and exam questions asked of students:

  • "If you had a Jewish friend who wanted to know if Jesus might be the expectant [sic] Messiah, which book [of the Gospels] would you give him?"
  • "Compose an explanation of who Jesus is for someone who has never heard of Him."  
  • "Why is it hard for a non-Christian to understand things about God?"
  • "What is Jesus Christ's relationship to God, to creation, and to you?"
  • "Who, according to Jesus, is the father of the Jews? The devil."

That expose led Florida officials to yank those classes and revamp the curricula.

But more than a decade later, similar problems persist, as the Texas Freedom Network documented in a January report that found classes designed more to evangelize students to a literalist, fundamentalist view of the Bible rather than to teach about its role in literature and history. Included in the lesson plans examined by TFN were characterizations of Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion, Christian-nation approaches to US history, and material “explaining” racial origins via the sons of Noah.

Are Arkansas legislators and education officials prepared to invest in the development of curricula, the training of educators, and meaningful oversight into how the classes are taught?

PFAW Foundation

Andrea Lafferty Cites CT School Shooting to Rally Opposition to Non-Discrimination Policies

Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition used the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in order to bolster her campaign against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act over the bill’s protections for LGBT employees. While speaking to Janet Mefferd yesterday about the Orange County, Florida, school system’s new non-discrimination policy that is similar to ENDA, Laffery said that just as parents are upset about the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting and are concerned about keeping their children safe, they should also be worried about ENDA’s “devastating effects” as schools will have “people with some real issues playing out their personal problems in the classroom.”

ENDA, the bill itself as I have been talking about it won’t become law, but they’re going to piece meal it. They’re going to start by making federal contractors—if you want to be a plumber for the government or want to do this, that or the other with the government, you have to comply with this order. They make try and find other ways of doing it, implementing the whole ENDA but I’m not sure exactly how at this point. But what I think people should focus on is: what does this mean locally?

People are really upset because of this tragedy up in Connecticut and protecting our children and we’re going to see some devastating effects. What they did in Florida is they passed a measure which affects adults, teachers, staff and kids. Our concern is that transgender children in schools are a different issue than teachers and staff. What we’re going to see is people with some real issues playing out their personal problems in the classroom.

Like other Religious Right activists who have warned that ENDA will lead to sexual assault and death, Lafferty maintained that ENDA is part of the left’s “open season” on Christians on behalf of “fringe minorities and people that are truly sick.”

Lafferty warned that Chick-fil-A restaurants may soon be “forced” to hire “weirdos” seeking to undermine Christian businesses, warning that transgender people are committing “the ultimate act of self-hatred” and need “special medical treatment” rather than job protections.

Lafferty: I fully expect that depending on how the administration pushes this, we’re going to see people applying for jobs at Chick-fil-A and Christian businesses because families go there because A) the food is good and B) they want to support what Chick-fil-A stands for, and no better way of hurting a Chick-fil-A restaurant than to have a bunch of weirdos working there.

Mefferd: That is so weird you say that because I had an experience like that at Chick-fil-A just a couple of weeks ago, exact same experience. I thought: that’s very strange that this person is working at Chick-fil-A.

Lafferty: They may have chosen to hire this person but they’re going to be forced to.



Lafferty: I think minorities, those protected classes, are going to be shocked when they find out that a transgendered man or woman is going to be treated the same as an African American man or woman. That’s not right and the laws will be overridden if ENDA should pass. That’s why they are going jurisdiction by jurisdiction to try and force communities to accept this. This is the ultimate act of self-hatred and we are lifting this up? We should be giving them special medical treatment maybe.

Mefferd: Get them some help.

Lafferty: Not protected class [status].

Still No Explanation From Grassley on Judiciary Committee Delays

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved five nominees to serve on federal district courts in New York, California and Florida and on the US Court of International Trade. A week ago, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley postponed votes on all five nominations without giving a reason, a delaying tactic that he has used on 97 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who the committee has voted on.

Sen. Grassley did not explain the reason for the delay last week, when a coalition of Iowa and national groups urged him to stop such routine delays. And the reason remained unclear today, as all five nominees were approved without opposition.

These five nominees now join fifteen other federal judicial nominees awaiting confirmation votes from the full Senate. The Senate has made progress by scheduling confirmation votes on four unopposed district court nominees in the past week, but that small amount of progress isn’t nearly enough to fill the gaps in overworked federal courts. Seven of the nominees still waiting for votes would fill officially-designated “judicial emergencies.”

It would be easy, of course, for the Senate to hold votes on all of the remaining nominees before the end of the year. After all, most were approved by the Judiciary Committee many months ago. But Senate Republicans have continued to stall even nominees with strong bipartisan support. All the circuit court nominees waiting for votes have the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic, and nearly all of the pending district court nominees were approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or nearly unanimous bipartisan support. One circuit court nominee, New Jersey’s Patty Shwartz, has been waiting nine months just for an up-or-down vote from the Senate; Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto has also been waiting since March.

If the Senate fails to vote on these nominees during the lame duck, the confirmation process – from presidential nomination through floor vote – will have to start all over again next year.

Notable about the district court nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee today is that all are women or people of color, representative of President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal courts. The nominees also include New York’s Pamela Chen, who would become just the fifth openly gay person to be confirmed to a lifetime federal judgeship.

PFAW

Restrictions on Early Voting and Voter Registration Used for Partisan Gain

Florida members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council said they were "appalled but not surprised" by the report and the claims that the restrictions exclusively targeted minority voters.
PFAW Foundation

Florida Pastors ‘Appalled but not Surprised’ by Report that Voter Suppression Measures Intended to Target African Americans

Jacksonville, Florida – Florida members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council today said they were “appalled but not surprised” by a Palm Beach Post report this weekend that restrictions on Florida early voting and voter registration were explicitly intended for partisan gain. The Post interviewed current and former GOP officials who said the restrictions were targeted at African American voters, and specifically at turnout operations at black churches.

“There’s a reason African Americans stood in line for hours on Nov. 6,” said Elder Lee Harris, Pastor of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “We knew that these early voting and voter registration restrictions were meant to keep us away from the polls. But we’ve come too far and fought too hard to let anybody take away our vote again.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council worked to bring African Americans throughout the country to the polls through the nonpartisan “I am a VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

“I am appalled but sadly not surprised by these officials’ admissions that their goal was purely to suppress the African American vote,” continued Elder Harris. “Even while cloaked in the dubious language of ‘voter fraud,’ the real reason for these measures was always clear. African Americans in Florida knew that, and we fought back – by voting.”

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Florida Federal Judge: We Need More Judges!

One of the district's vacancies could have been filled many months ago, if only Republicans would stop their blanket obstruction.
PFAW

The Right to Vote Under Attack, 2012 Update

Here we detail, as of October 6, 2012, except where otherwise noted, the latest efforts across the country to suppress the vote, as well as some encouraging successes in expanding the franchise.

Joel Gilbert Swings a Florida Voter

Papers in Florida have been reporting recently on a curious DVD that has been turning up in mailboxes across the state. The video is none other than Joel Gilbert’s “Dreams From My Real Father,” a “documentary” narrated by a fictional Barack Obama claiming that Obama’s mother’s marriage to Barack Obama Sr. was a sham meant to cover up her relationship with labor activist and communist organizer Frank Marshall Davis, the president's "real father." Gilbert previously boasted that he sent the DVD to a million households across Ohio, but declines to divulge who is paying for his marketing campaign.

On Friday, Palm Beach’s WPTV reported that Gilbert’s film has managed to swing at least one Florida voter.

When Ron and Judy Cindrick received what was billed as "a must-watch DVD" in their mailbox, they decided to see what "Dreams from My Real Father" was all about.

Judy said what she saw shocked her.

"I was absolutely appalled when I began to watch this and they began to show pictures of Barack Obama's mother, his supposed mother, naked," she said.

Ron said watching the pseudo-documentary turns his stomach, and his vote. He believes the Obama conspiracy-type film has to be politically motivated.

"I am a registered Republican, and as of today, I will vote for Barack Obama after receiving this DVD," said Ron.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the film has also been showing up in mailboxes in Nevada and New Hampshire. In an interview with a Florida radio show on Saturday, Gilbert claimed a version of the film on Netflix Instant Play has been watched by 200,000 people.

AAMLC Praises Expansion of Florida Voter Registration Rights

 A federal judge in Florida yesterday said that he will permanently block new restrictions on voter registration drives that have suppressed registration in the months leading up to the 2012 election. The new restrictions had all but shut down voter registration efforts by major civic engagement groups in Florida.

Elder Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, issued the following statement:

“My fellow church leaders and I have been working to get everybody in our community to participate in our democracy. Unfortunately, some of our elected officials want to discourage new voters and drive people away from the polls, rather than drawing new voters in. Discouraging civic participation is a cynical and short-sighted way to try to win an election. Yesterday’s ruling means that more people will have more opportunities to register to vote. This decision is good for Florida, and good for our democracy.”

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Romney Surrogate Briefly a No-Show at Tea Party Rally in Tampa, Awkwardness Ensues

Mitt Romney’s relationship with the Tea Party, despite his embrace of their positions on a range of issues, is famously awkward. Yesterday’s Unity Rally 2012 was no exception.

Following a rousing speech by Niger Innis, the emcee gave an uncharacteristically restrained introduction of Rep. Jason Chaffetz to speak on behalf of Romney:
Our next speaker is here on behalf of a guy you may have heard of. His name is Mitt Romney. He’s here to ask for your vote for this particular man for, uh, I believe it’s president of the United States. 
Chaffetz, however, was nowhere to be seen. After walking around on the stage and pretending to hand over the mic, the emcee said, “I hope Governor Romney shows up better in the polls than this guy does here. No offense.”
 
Here are the two most awkward minutes of the evening, which just might be a metaphor for Romney's awkward courtship of the Tea Party:
 

 

Public Schools Denounced at Tea Party Rally in Tampa, Blamed for Election of Barack Obama

Conservative talk show host Neal Boortz, speaking at yesterday’s Unity Rally 2012 in Tampa ahead of the Republican National Convention, denounced public schools as “government schools” that are “forced upon us.” Boortz blamed “100 years of government education” for bringing America “to the point that a man like Barack Obama could be sworn in as president of the United States.”

Boortz directed the crowd to change the way they speak about public schools – calling them “government schools” instead. He also called on the audience to “preach school choice,” by which meant efforts to defund public schools and provide taxpayer dollars for religious and private schools and homeschooling.

A number of public officials spoke at the rally, including Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Michele Bachmann. Kleefisch and Chaffetz both followed Boortz but neither stood up for public schools. One has to wonder if they, like Boortz, also hate public education:
 
Let me change your language on two things. […]
 
They are not public schools, they are government schools. They are owned by, staffed by, operated by and forced upon by the government.
 
And, ladies and gentlemen, it is 100 years of government education that led us to the point that a man like Barack Obama could be sworn in as president of the United States.
 
So, wherever you are, preach school choice.

 

Obama Wants to 'Destroy' America with 'Poverty, Tyranny and Mass Murder': Tea Party Leader at Pre-RNC Rally

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, speaking at yesterday’s Unity Rally 2012 in Tampa ahead of the Republican National Convention, claimed that President Obama and Congressional Democrats are out to destroy the country. Phillips told the crowd that Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are socialists who support a system that causes “poverty, tyranny and occasionally mass murder:”

This nation has done more good for more people than any other nation in the world. And this is the nation that Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi want to diminish and destroy.

Today, freedom and liberty stand in opposition to socialism. You know, the primary products of the system that Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi love so well are poverty, tyranny and occasionally mass murder.
 
These are the fruits of socialism, and to the socialists we have simply one word, "no!"
 
Friends, we are not going to go quietly into that dark night of socialist tyranny.
 

 

African American Pastors Praise Court’s Upholding of Voting Rights in Florida

Jacksonville, Fla. – The African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC), a national coalition of African American clergy, today praised a federal court’s decision to strike down Florida early voting restrictions in five counties that would disproportionately affect African American voters.

“Sadly, the voter suppression tactics that the Voting Rights Act was meant to combat are alive and well in Florida,” said Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “But thanks to the Voting Rights Act, those trying to suppress the African American vote in Florida aren’t going to get away with it. The court was right to apply the act to what was a blatant attempt to keep African Americans from the polls.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Florida legislature’s decision to cut early voting from 12 days to eight, for as little as six hours a day (potentially all during the standard workday), violated section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal review of voting rights changes in states and counties with a history of voter discrimination. The court’s decision applies just to the five counties covered under section 5 --Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe. The panel said it would approve a plan where the five counties held early voting open for 12 hours a day for each of the 8 days.

“Thanks to this sound decision, which we urge Gov. Scott to accept, Black voters in five counties will reclaim access to the ballot box during these critical early voting days,” continued Elder Harris. “However, residents of counties not covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – including Duval County – continue to face these suppressive new rules. We urge officials in all of Florida’s counties to adopt the same early voting opportunities as approved by the court.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.

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Court Rejects Florida's Efforts to Curtail Early Voting

In an opinion affecting 5 counties, a federal court rules that Florida's curtailed early voting would disproportionately harm African Americans.
PFAW Foundation

YEP Primary Winners

The results are in from Tuesday’s primaries, and People For the American Way is proud to commend seven Young Elected Progressives endorsees on their victories.

In Connecticut, PFAW applauds Assemblymen Matthew Lesser and James Albis, both running for reelection. Lesser, of Connecticut’s 100th district, has been a proven advocate for the middle class, education, and equal rights since he was first elected in 2010. Albis, a tireless voice for seniors and the middle class, was first elected in a 2011 special election. Both assemblymen face challengers in November, but are continuing their momentum into the fall’s general election.

PFAW also extends its congratulations to five YEP endorsees who emerged victorious in primary elections in Florida: Dwight Bullard, Andrew Gillum, John Alvarez, Leo Cruz, and Ricardo Rangel. While Bullard, winner of this year’s Barbara Jordan Leadership Award given by affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s YEO Network program, defeated four primary challengers in the state Senate’s 39th district, Gillum, YEO Network National Director, defeated three challengers to his Tallahassee city commission seat in a landslide victory. Elsewhere, openly gay state House candidate Alvarez continues to shatter ceilings, advancing onto the general election after an exciting 15 point victory. Cruz and Rangel, state Senate and House hopefuls, respectively, now also face challengers in November.

For more information on PFAW’s other Young Elected Progressives endorsees, click here, and be sure support these strong progressive voices!

PFAW
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