Texas

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

Texas Board of Education Chair Suggests Schools Teach 'Another Side to the Theory of Evolution'

Barbara Cargill, whom Rick Perry picked to chair the State Board of Education, is upset that a curriculum used by several Texas schools called CSCOPE, which has been at the center of right-wing conspiracy theories, doesn’t teach students about alternative theories to evolution. As first reported by the Texas Freedom Network, Cargill said that publishers and CSCOPE should teach “another side to the theory of evolution.”

Our intent, as far as theories with the [curriculum standards], was to teach all sides of scientific explanations…. But when I went on [to the CSCOPE website] last night, I couldn’t see anything that might be seen as another side to the theory of evolution. Every link, every lesson, everything, you know, was taught as ‘this is how the origin of life happened, this is what the fossil record proves,’ and all that’s fine, but that’s only one side.

As we’ve pointed out before, a biology textbook that includes creationism as a “balance” to evolution would be no different than a geology textbook that includes the views of the Flat Earth Society.

Texas Public School Course Teaches the 'Racial Origins Traced from Noah'

A new report put out by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund reveals that in several public school classes on the impact of the Bible on history have found classes teaching from a right-wing, fundamentalist Christian standpoint.

A Southern Methodist University religious studies professor Mark Chancey found instances of students learning a literal interpretation of the Bible, that the earth is approximately 6,000 years old and that Judaism is a “flawed and incomplete religion” with materials “designed to evangelize rather than provide an objective study of the Bible’s influence.”

TFN also found a lesson explaining “racial origins traced from Noah.”

The claim that Africans are descendants of Ham, whom Noah curses in Genesis 9 after he “saw the nakedness of his father,” has long been used as a biblical justification for anti-black racism and slavery.

The report [PDF] even found courses that embrace the Christian nationalist ideology of the Religious Right, including inauthentic quotes attributed to the Founding Fathers:

In a few districts, Bible courses echo claims made within the Religious Right that the Founding Fathers were largely orthodox Protestant Christians who intended for the United States to be a distinctively Christian nation with laws and a form of government based on the Bible. This logic is implied, for example, in a Dalhart ISD daily lesson plan: “The student understands the beliefs, and principles taken from the Biblical texts and applied to elements of the American system of government.” These claims are problematic not only because they are historically inaccurate but also because they figure prominently in attempts by the Religious Right to guarantee a privileged position in the public square for their own religious beliefs above those of others.



Lubbock and Prosper ISDs are among the districts that relied on material from the NCBCPS [National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools] course on this topic. Since at least 2005, the NCBCPS curriculum has included a 10-page selection of isolated quotations (at least five of them spurious) praising the Bible, God and Christianity set against a blurry backdrop depicting soldiers carrying an American flag.

PFAWF Releases Reports on Outside Election Spending in 21 States, Organizes ‘Money Out/Voters In’ Events Across the U.S.

Out of State Money Floods Contests in 2012

Washington, DC –  Today People For the American Way Foundation unveiled new state-by-state fact sheets detailing outside spending in U.S. Senate and House races in 21 states.  Each report analyzes the outside spending totals from Super PACs, dark money groups, and out-of-state spenders in the down ballot federal races from the 2012 election cycle.  The fact sheets reveal that, on average, a majority of outside election money in these states came from Super PACs.  And in every case, a vast majority came from organizations registered outside of the state.

The release of the “Outside Spending, Outsized Influence” reports coincide with the weekend marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the third anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC  to draw attention to the dual threats of voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics. The reports – a partnership between PFAWF and U.S. PIRG – are part of the Money Out/Voters In campaign.  As part of that campaign, People For the American Way Foundation, its affiliate People For the American Way, and other organizers across the country are hosting “Day of Action” events in more than 76 cities in 33 states this weekend. Members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council will be leading Money Out/Voters In events in Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.

“Last year’s elections were far and away the most expensive in history,” said People For the American Way Foundation Executive Vice President Marge Baker.  “A major reason was the influx of outside, special interest spending in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision. When big money floods our elections, it dwarfs the ability of individual Americans to have their voices heard. Just as important, when politicians push laws to suppress the vote, we turn back the clock on decades on progress to expand and improve our democracy. We need to pursue the full range of remedies to address the problem of too much money in politics, including amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, and we need to stand up against the growing threat of voter suppression.  This weekend we are joining with allies across the country to call for a democracy that gets Money Out and Voters In.”

The states featured in the reports are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

For links to each report, please visit: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/outside-spending-outsized-influence-big-and-s...

For more information about the Money Out/Voters In campaign or the Days of Action, please visit: http://www.moneyout-votersin.org

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Right Wing Round-Up - 1/16/13

Will the Texas GOP Fall for a Chain Email Warning of 'Islamic Indoctrination' in Schools?

After a chain email sparked rumors that Texas was “indoctrinating children with Islam” and anti-American views, the Irving school district launched an investigation. But the examination of the school curriculum, called CSCOPE, found that the charges were bogus. That didn’t stop WorldNetDaily, which often reads like an amalgam of erroneous chain emails, from running with the story.

WND is out with a new article, “Obama Interested in ‘Allah-is-God’ Curriculum,” which claims the Obama administration is using CSCOPE as part of a plan to “nationalize education.” It includes an interview with Texas Republican State Senator Dan Patrick, who says he might launch an investigation into CSCOPE as chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

CSCOPE, the controversial online curriculum that taught “Allah is God” and currently is used in 80 percent of Texas school districts, has caught the attention of the Obama administration’s Department of Education.

A source in the Texas education system has told WND that Common Core operatives in the U.S. Department of Education are actively pursuing CSCOPE as a way around the Texas legislative process.

Texas is one of the few states still resisting implementation of Common Core, Obama’s national standards initiative, which many feel is a transparent attempt to nationalize education and progressively control classroom content with minimal parental oversight.

Implementation of Common Core is known to have been made a condition of school systems’ receipt of federal dollars under Obama’s “Race to the Top” program. CSCOPE recently has come under fire for evidence of what sources claim to be radical content and secrecy. Now new information of such a radical agenda has surfaced showing CSCOPE connections to Obama mentor and self-acknowledged terror group member Bill Ayers.



Speaking with WND, Texas Sen. Dan Patrick, new chairman of the education committee, communicated his intent to hold high-profile hearings and investigate CSCOPE.

Sen. Patrick noted, “Any system where the chairman of the state board can’t get a password to explore their site in detail for six months, requires teachers to sign an agreement that could subject them to criminal penalties, and is not easily transparent to parents, needs to be closely examined by the legislature.”

When asked if he would support placing CSCOPE under state oversight and/or local school board oversight, Sen. Patrick answered carefully, explaining, “We will make that decision after our hearings. However, I have concerns of any curriculum program that is in the majority of our school districts without some level of oversight by either the SBOE, TEA, or the legislature.”

WND Pushes Bogus Story on Supposed 'Pro-Islam Bias' in Schools Days after it was Debunked

WorldNetDaily is pushing a story about supposed Islamic indoctrination in Texas based on a chain email literally days after a review of the curriculum by the Irving Independent School District found nothing of the sort. The school district launched the review because of the chain email set off rumors that schools were trying to convert students to Islam with overt and subliminal messages and the Boston Tea Party was portrayed as an act of terrorism. The review found that “Christianity got twice as much attention in the curriculum as any other religion” and that “The Red Crescent and Boston Tea Party reference mentioned in the email were nowhere in CSCOPE’s curriculum.”

But WorldNetDaily, as you’d expect, decided to cite the chain email as a credible source and completely ignored reports about the study debunking its claims.

In the 70 percent of Texas public schools where a private curriculum has been installed, students are learning the “fact” that “Allah is the Almighty God,” charge critics of a new online curriculum that already is facing condemnation for its secrecy and restrictions on oversight.

The program, called CSCOPE, is a private venture operating under the umbrella of the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative, whose incorporation documents state its independence from the State Board of Education of the Texas Education Agency.

Other reports previously have raised alarm over the curriculum’s depiction of the Boston Tea Party as a terrorist act on par with the 9/11 attack.

According to documentation that has leaked out, the program describes the Boston Tea Party this way: “A local militia, believed to be a terrorist organization, attacked the property of private citizens today at our nation’s busiest port. Although no one was injured in the attack, a large quantity of merchandise, considered to be valuable to its owners and loathsome to the perpetrators, was destroyed. The terrorists, dressed in disguise and apparently intoxicated, were able to escape into the night with the help of local citizens who harbor these fugitives and conceal their identities from the authorities. It is believed that the terrorist attack was a response to the policies enacted by the occupying country’s government. Even stronger policies are anticipated by the local citizens.”



Now come concerns about what critics describe as a definitively pro-Islam bias.

The critics say the studies border on proselytizing.

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.

Right Wing Round-Up - 10/25/12

College Diversity Case Shows Importance of Sup. Court as Election Issue

Since Bush replaced O'Connor with Alito, an important affirmative action precedent is now in doubt. The presidential election affects the Supreme Court and all of us.
PFAW

Fisher v. University of Texas Rally Showcases Support for Affirmative Action

Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a landmark case that could determine whether public colleges and universities can consider race as one of many factors when making admission decisions. Plaintiff Abigail Fisher, a white woman, alleges that the University of Texas discriminated against her based on her race when she was not admitted to the University of Texas in 2008. Should the Supreme Court choose to rule in favor of Fisher and rescind equality measures that were upheld by the Court just nine years ago in Grutter v. Bollinger, public colleges and universities would lose their ability to ensure a diverse student body.

People For the American Way, along with many proponents of affirmative action, rallied in front of the Supreme Court, stressing the necessity of diversity and inclusiveness in higher education. Champions of fairness and racial equality spoke, reflecting upon their own educational triumphs as a result of affirmative action and warning against a color-blind perspective that the Supreme Court may uphold. Speakers emphasized that individuals are multi-faceted, and cannot be judged solely by an SAT score or a GPA.

Speakers at the rally emphasized that a student must be evaluated wholly as an individual. A person’s race and ethnicity is part of their background and part of what they offer to the diverse university community, just like their athletic abilities or legacy family roots.

While people of color have made great strides in closing the education gap, disparities in higher education remain widespread. Colleges and universities must foster diversity and represent the vast spectrum of aspiring students and professionals. This will only enhance ingenuity, bridge the racial divides of our history, and preserve America’s platform of fairness and justice.

PFAW

Gohmert: Obama 'Helped Jump-Start a New Ottoman Empire'

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) took to the House Floor today to declare that President Obama is helping to start a “new Ottoman Empire,” as seen in his decisions to end the war in Iraq, which Gohmert said means losing the war, and to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship in Libya. Gohmert warned that we are witnessing the “massive beginning of a new Ottoman Empire that President Obama can take great credit for.” “Wow look what he has helped do in the Middle East, a new Ottoman Empire,” Gohmert said, “thank you President Barack Hussein Obama.” Gohmert added that he didn’t know if Obama is or is not a Christian, adding, “what I do know is that he has helped jump-start a new Ottoman Empire.”

Watch:

Ted Cruz Hails Rick Scarborough, Who Believes AIDS is God's Judgment for Immorality

Speaking during the afternoon session at the Values Voters Summit, Texas Republican Senate nominee was introduced by fellow Texas, Rick Scarborough of Vision America.

After Scarborough hailed Cruz as "a man grounded by faith and principle" and "a true champion of freedom," Cruz returned the favor, hailing Scarborough as a "tremendous patriot and voice for Christian values."

As we noted in our pre-VVS write-up, Scarborough spends most of his time warning that America is facing "sexual anarchy led by sodomites" and declaring that AIDS is God's "judgment for an immoral act":

UPDATE: State legislation shines national spotlight on voter ID

"On voting rights in America, the arc of the universe has indeed been long, centuries long, from the three-fifths compromise in the Constitution to the poll tax to the literacy test. But it has always bent toward justice. These new laws seek to bend the arc backward again, to take away from people their effective right to vote."
PFAW Foundation

Texas Pastors Celebrate Court’s Rejection of Voter ID

Houston, Tex. – Texas members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, praised a federal court decision today striking down Texas’ suppressive voter ID law. A unanimous three-judge panel on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, reviewing the proposed restrictions under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, found that the law “imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas.”

“It is inexcusable that nearly 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, politicians are still trying to make it harder for African Americans in Texas to vote,” said Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Queen, Prairie View City Councilman and Pastor of Community Affairs & Homeless Services at St. John's Downtown UMC. “I wish the Voting Rights Act wasn’t still necessary, but thank the Lord it’s still there. African Americans in Texas have struggled throughout our history to exercise all of our rights as citizens, including the right to vote without unnecessary restrictions meant to discourage and disenfranchise. Today, thanks to the Voting Rights Act, a major threat to that effort has been defeated.”

“Our elected officials should be trying to get more people to vote, not discouraging those who are trying to participate in our democracy,” said Rev. Dr. Rolen Lewis Womack, Jr. of Houston, co-chair of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “We are working every day to encourage our congregations and communities to vote and to help them get to the ballot box. Today’s ruling removes a major obstacle to that work.”

The African American Ministers Leadership Council, 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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Progress Texas Announces 13 More State Legislators Have Left ALEC

The mass exodus from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today, as an additional 13 members of the state legislature cut ties with the corporate bill factory. Progress Texas reports:

As we have written many times before, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate bill factory for model laws. The organization arranges for corporate lobbyists and conservative legislators to hold joint secret meetings to craft cookie-cutter bills that increase the profits of private companies at the public’s expense. Following public pressure from Progress Texas and its membership, 25 legislators have dropped - including every Democrat. A majority of the Texas Legislature – 96 of 181 members – is now no longer a part of ALEC.

32 corporations from across the country have also left ALEC. A complete list can be found here.

The PFAW Foundation has been key in exposing ALEC’s efforts at influencing governmental agendas at the local, state, and federal level.

PFAW

Young Elected Progressives Program

People For the American Way is dedicated to fighting for equal rights, freedom of speech, religious liberty and equal justice under the law for every American. One way we do that is by supporting great progressive candidates throughout the country through the Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. The YEP program supports progressive candidates 35 and younger running for local and state offices, helping them win elections so they can start enacting change nationwide. This is done with an endorsement from PFAW’s Action Fund, along with monetary donations, volunteer hours and political support from people like you!

We will be revealing this year’s Young Elected Progressives program endorsed candidates through a series of blog posts highlighting a few candidates and their accomplishments. Today, we’ll introduce you to State Senator Angie Buhl (SD), Representative Dwight Bullard (FL), and Mary Gonzalez (TX).

Angie Buhl

Angie Buhl is running for reelection to the South Dakota Senate, where she represents the city of Sioux Falls. Buhl was first elected in 2010 at the age of 25, becoming the youngest woman to ever serve in South Dakota’s Senate.

Buhl has quickly become a leader in the state Senate and a voice for South Dakota Democrats. She has already risen to the position of Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and she serves on the Judiciary, Commerce & Energy, Retirement Laws, and Interim Rules Review Committees.

Buhl is a proven progressive champion and an advocate for equal rights. She has served on the board of Equality South Dakota, as well as South Dakotans Against Discrimination and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She is also an active member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, which provides a network of support to elected officials 35 and under, and the National Women’s Political Caucus of South Dakota. Visit her website here.

Dwight Bullard

Dwight Bullard is running for Florida Senate in the 39th district. He has served in Florida’s House of Representatives since 2008.

Bullard, a high school teacher by trade, has shown great leadership in Florida’s education system both in and out of the classroom. As the ranking Democrat in the education committee and the pre K-12 education policy committee in the state legislature, Bullard is a leader in fighting for public education reform. Bullard also sponsored the Florida DREAM Act, which creates a pathway for undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition.

Bullard has been recognized often for his work, including receiving the Barbara Jordan Leadership Award from affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Additionally, he was awarded the Young Democrats of Miami Dade Outstanding Leadership Award from the Miami-Dade Democrats and the Next Generation Leader Award from the Florida Association of School Administrators. Visit his website here.

Mary E. Gonzalez

Mary E. Gonzalez is running to represent District 75 in the Texas House of Representatives. Gonzalez won the Democratic primary with 52% of the vote in a three way race back on May 29th. She will become the only current openly gay member of the Texas legislature.

Gonzalez has spent the past several years working in higher education. She has served as the Program Coordinator in the Multicultural Engagement Center at the University of Texas at Austin and was the Assistant Dean for Student Multicultural Affairs at Southwestern University. She also serves as the National President of the service sorority Kappa Delta Chi and Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for allgo, Texas' state-wide Queer People of Color organization.

Gonzalez has been named as one of the Hot 25 under 25 most influential young Latinos in the country by Latino Leaders Magazine for her leadership in education. Once elected, Gonzalez will join former state representative Glen Maxey as the only two openly LGBT members ever to serve in the Texas House. Her election may show a cultural shift in what is still a largely conservative state and gives the Texas LGBT community a voice in the Texas state government. Visit her website here .

PFAW
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