Texas, Textbooks and Teaching : The Far Reaching Effects of the Texas Freedom Network’s New Report


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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120 Responses

  1. Avatar Michelle says:

    Fascinating essay, Tod. I don’t have time to comment right now, but the whole topic of conservative efforts to “re-right” history intrigues me.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      In listening to right wing radio, it’s pretty much a constant drumbeat of this sort of thing. It can get downright painful to listen to sometimes, when things that are just completely off the wall are repeated over and over again.

      I’m reminded of the wikipedia kerfluffle two years ago. Yes, wikipedia itself is less-than-reliable, but it was very interesting how fast the right wing rushed to try to rewrite it to favor their viewpoints and I understand they have an entire POV-pushing clique called “Wikiproject Conservatism” dedicated to doing that sort of thing now.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Conservapedia. And I strongly encourage you not to venture there without a hefty dose of valium.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          I won’t go near the place without at least 4 drams of good Scotch.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

          On the contrary, it’s very funny stuff. I especially recommend their article about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. And I’m going to pre-empt the usual argument that the really idiotic parts are the result of liberal vandals by advising anyone that does go there to look at the list of changes for the page you’re reading; the very dumbest ones are often the work of Andy Schlafly or the site’s other principals.Report

  2. Avatar Sam says:

    Social Conservatives would be thrilled if Americans were dumber. It’s the only way to keep their brand appealing.Report

  3. Avatar mark boggs says:

    Caution, Tod, you may raise the spectre of one Mr. Van Dyke, who spends his time over on the American Creation blog attacking critics of David Barton for their nitpickiness and failure to acknowledge the truths that Barton sometimes gets right.Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

      It’s true that this would be a more interesting discussion if Tom or Bob Cheeks were still around. As it is, I think we’re all going to nod our heads and agree that Tod’s right. What fun is that?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Just because the 9ers lost doesn’t mean you have to wish us all into the abyss.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

          At today’s morning meeting, a co-worker said he had to console himself by replaying the last inning of the World Series. 🙂 (For the ill-informed, that ended with AL MVP Miguel Cabrera getting struck out by this guy –> )Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I’ve hand this conversation with Tom and seen him have this conversation with others so many times, over several years (even pre-League), that I read Tod’s post and immediately knew what Tom would say about it. So I feel like his actual presence would be superfluous.

        Anyway, Texas is a mess.Report

        • Avatar mark boggs says:

          And it’s sad, too. TVD seems to have a real depth of knowledge about this subject that could prove so beneficial but he seems hell bent on making sure he uses it in service of his own culture wars.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            This is the subject on which Tom is knowledgeable and insightful. He’s a bit reactionary on the subject, too, but he wouldn’t be Tom otherwise (for example, he’ll suggest, in essence, that Barton’s sins aren’t a bad thing because they balance out the sins of the evil left-wing historians in academia). But since everyone here is just going to agree that this nonsense is bad, it would be nice to have a knowledgeable person take the other side. Part of me genuinely wishes that Tom had seen that taking that side ultimately puts him in the same camp as the folks who are actually teaching public school children that “Judaism is a flawed religion.”Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              That sounds troublingly like “Lies for Jesus aren’t really lies”.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              There is no knowledge on the other side.

              Stuff like this is a flat-out violation of the Establishment and Free Exercises clauses. It has no place in a public school district anywhere.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Eh, Tom’s position, when he’s not being hyper-partisan, is basically that the influence of Christianity on the American founding and on the principles that founding represented (represents?) is much greater than a lot of people think, and that it is not unreasonable to talk about that, even in a public school history course. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position, though I think it’s possible to leave the explicitly religious stuff out of it: it’s true that Aquinas was a big influence, both directly and indirectly on the founders, but it’s possible, and not inaccurate, to talk about that as the history of Western thought, rather than the history of Christianity, because it’s not obvious to me, though it is obvious to Tom, that God, or the Christian God in particular, is necessary for the creation, transmission, or practical implementation of the message that comes from that intellectual tradition.

                What the Texas law and the Texas state school folks are trying to do is more than just this, though. They want to take the role of Christianity in the intellectual history of the West, which was a big one because it was the monks and clergy who were literate, educated in Western though (the Greeks, the Romans, the early Christian intellectuals), and use that as an excuse to put not only Christianity, but a particularly modern Protestantism, into the curriculum. That’s disgusting, but I don’t think it’s where Tom’s coming from, even if he will defend it to an extent out of a misguided need for “balance.”Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Most high school history classes cover the Christian influences on America — heck, the premier story every kid knows is how the Puritans fled religious persecution.

                What’s actually glossed over is the degree to which these persecuted religious minorities set up shop and proceeded to..persecute the snot out of any religion that wasn’t theirs.

                Texas here wants a mythical version of the founding of our nation. Their understanding of history is basically at a fifth grade level, only they’ve never grasped that they got told simple stories that glossed over much of the reality — because they were 10 and it was about as complex as they could grasp.

                Burton basically feeds that urge — to make America more than just a collection of religious malcontents getting away from the more established powers, but to turn it into some sort of God-driven creation, a shining new Christian city mandated for the faithful.

                it’s a nice story, but it’s not what happened. Not even remotely. You have to lie, cherrypick, and just flat out ignore, well, most of American history to get that going.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I think this is the part that leaves me cold – that it somehow matters in a non-academic or historical sense.

                If we suddenly had absolute, irrefutable, 100% agreed upon proof that all the Founders wanted a Christian only nation – or a nation where religion is frowned upon – or something in-between – I cannot imagine it having an impact on what anyone would be pushing for in 21st century America. I know personally if you produced letters from Washington and Jefferson saying, I dunno, that only Christians should ever be allowed to hold public office, it’s not like I’d suddenly start advocating canning all the Jewish public employees and signing recall petitions for the elected ones.

                And yet that’s the kind of thing so much of these debates pretend is at stake. I seriously don’t get it.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Tod, I think that to the people to whom it matters, it really does have practical implications. There are two types of people to whom it matters: the new atheist sorts who think that removing God from the founding will somehow make it easier to remove God from today, and their mirror image, the evangelical Christians who think that putting God even deeper into the founding will somehow make it easier to enact their agenda, particularly social conservatism, because it’s what this country’s about. You and I may think both these groups, or at least the latter, are grasping at irrelevancies, or using the past to rationalize what they’d want in the present regardless, but it’s very real to them, so it’s problematic to simply wave it away.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                From what I understand, waaaay back before I was born, there were civic events in more or less every town of a certain size or larger and there was usually a Priest or Minister up there next to the Mayor. Bigger than that had a Priest and a Minister. And even bigger than that had a Priest, a Minister, and a Rabbi.

                There were public homilies, prayers, and blessings offered.

                And, as far as I can tell, not only does that not happen any more, the argument goes that it shouldn’t happen anymore. “Separation of Church and State” and whatnot.

                The argument, as far as I can tell, is not whether you will start calling for getting rid of all of the Jewish public employees but, it seems to me, stop calling for someone to be sued if there is a public prayer before a big public event.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I think this is the part that leaves me cold – that it somehow matters in a non-academic or historical sense.

                Tie it in with a cheap version of originalism, and it seems to matter a great deal.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Maybe it’s because I’m in Texas, but I see preachers at public events pretty regularly, and not just with the major (actually, I don’t know if I’ve seen one with the mayor), but with the governor. Hell, the governor does prayer events like the one with these folks.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, we don’t seem to have those things go on here. While politicians show up at explicitly religious functions, it seems different from inviting explicitly religious leaders to nakedly civic events.

                I understand that there is still a bland prayer given before Congressional sessions. Sometimes given by guest chaplains (they’ve had a Muslim Imam, a Jewish Rabbi, a Hindu Chaplain… it’s a setup for one heck of a bar joke).

                There are arguments that this needs to end. “It’s unconstitutional!”

                I suppose the argument that “The Fathers Did This Crap!” is a pretty good counter-argument to its unconstitutionality. I admit to not being a fan of the argument that we’ve been doing something for 250 years and only now have we realized that it’s not Constitutional… but, I suppose, my constitutional theory is closer to Originalist than not.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:


                FDR used to talk in religious-ish tones that we would find shocking today.

                The modern era of Supreme Court jurisprudence using the First Amendment began in the 1940s with JW’s who would refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The Supreme Court ruled in a matter of years that they could be compelled to say the Pledge in school and then quickly sad otherwise a few years later.

                Though most of the modern interpretations come from the loved or loathed Warren Court with cases that ruled even non-denominational prayers were unconstitutional.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                Um… maybe???

                But I must admit, I’ll be surprised if the golden ring at the end of the ride ends up being able to say a nice thanks to God before the fireman charity auction. Cause if it were, I suspect we would have never spent so many hours in front of the Supreme Court trying to hammer it out.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                And even bigger than that had a Priest, a Minister, and a Rabbi.

                No damned pagans, though.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I find benign religious posturing to be completely nonthreatening, whether it’s a prayer before a meeting of congress or a football game. Some people seem to feel excluded by it, but it doesn’t make me feel exluded any more than the Beyonce halftime show makes me feel excluded because I’m not a pop music fan.

                I only start to get antsy when people start to take these gestures, and the fact that people have been doing them for 200+ years, to mean that this country’s core “values” are not only in line with, but actually dictate whatever social and political agenda these same people are pushing. Clearly it’s crossed that line here in Texas.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                As an atheist, I find myself sometimes unable to distinguish between “a prayer” and “a speech pretending to be a prayer”.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Jaybird, as an atheist, I rarely think the difference matters.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Jaybird, I have to confess that I was scratching my head a bit at your comment. Then I remembered that not everywhere is like it is where I grew up.

                Of course, I grew up in a certain kind of suburb where the FCA may have been a “prime” moving-shaking part of the high school coterie, and I went to the sort of Episcopal Church that took us on field trips to the local mosque to explain all we had in common with the Muslims, but I was taken aback when I went to a high school game in another part of town where the game began with a prayer very specifically and repeatedly in Jesus’ name.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think the difference is important because the former may or may not be protected by the First Amendment… but the latter sure as heck is.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                Thus spake Tod:

                I think this is the part that leaves me cold – that it somehow matters in a non-academic or historical sense.

                I think the important thing to bear in mind is that the type of conservative Christian pushing this stuff believes morality is strictly command based – basically that morality is concordant with doing what a legitimate authority tells you to do, whether that be the Bible, or your preacher or whoever. I honestly think most of them don’t understand how morality could work any other way, which is why they ask things like “How can you be good without God?” like that was a serious question.

                So when these folks ask themselves “how should we run our country?” the translate that question into “how have we been told to run our country?”, which lead the to immediately look at what the Founding Fathers wanted (or at least what they imagine the Founding Fathers wanted).Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                There’s a deeper connection, for them, between the Founding and Christianity than merely doing what’s been done all along, or doing what we’re told. For them, the Founding was a Christian event, brought about by God to create a more Christian nation, which is to say, a nation based on Christian principles. So the Christianness of the Founding is central not just to that event, and those men (and they were men, of course), but to the very concept of America and what it means to be American. That this conveniently allows them to justify their current social and political agendas as not only Christian, but fundamentally American, is a welcome bonus.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                I see your point Chris, but I think the reason they need the Founding to be a Christian event is that they see the Founding Fathers / Constitution and God / The Bible as legitimate authorities. Their moral system collapses if their legitimate authorities don’t all agree with each other, so they have to tie them all in together, or reject one of them (i.e. become Anti-Christian or Anti-American). Not wanting to reject either, they tie themselves in elaborate knots to reconcile their beliefs. It matters so much to them because their entire moral sense depends on it.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                James, I think you’re right, the authority of the Founding and Christianity get all tied up and twisted together, and challenges to this knotting are, for certain groups, very serious challenges to their basic world views.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                … do you remember who the Quakers persecuted? Do you remember WHY the Quakers persecuted them?

                … they weren’t all puritans!!Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                I think that one should cover the various Christian roots of certain American colonies like Massachusetts (Puritans, City on a Hill, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God), Pennsylvania (Quakers), and Maryland (Catholics).

                However, dissenters like Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams should also be covered especially because Roger Williams is one of the roots of freedom of religion. Also the refusal of the Dutch East India Company to expel Jews from New Amsterdam should be covered. Along with the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and revolt against providing stipends to ministers.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Interestingly enough, the county hall where I lived in Deseret put the VSRF next to the Ten Commandments on the front lawn as a compromise on Church+State.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                rofl. that’s pretty awesome.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                You can also cover this in American history without reading from the Bible.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I can’t honestly think of any reason why we’d need to read the Bible in history courses, American or otherwise, except perhaps as a source document on certain parts of ancient history (and even then, not a very reliable one). I can imagine reading parts of in in literature courses, particularly since so much of western literature alludes to it so often. But I’m not sure how you pull that off at the secondary level without risking a significant number of teachers preaching rather than teaching it as literature.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                You need to read the Bible in history if you firmly believe America was founded to be a Christian nation and a model to all the heathens.

                Which a large number of people do.

                Evangelicals and fundamentalists alike use and see the Bible (and God) absolutely everywhere in ways that mystified me even when I was a Lutheran.

                If you’ve ever seen their actual curriculm — the sort of thing fundamentalist Protestant private schools use — you’ll see references to God and the Bible everywhere. Everywhere. I’m pretty sure they’re even in math classes.

                Some of the crazier ones actually consider set theory to be an affront to god. I tried to understand it, but it made my head hurt.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Why set theory, because of infinities?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I used to have a lot of friends who were fundamentalists — not evangelicals, fundamentalists, mostly Nazarene but some Baptists of one sort or another (if you are familiar with the recent controversy over the philosophy department at Cedarville, I had several friends who went there in the mid-90s). I don’t recall set theory being an issue for them, or most of physics. Their issues lay primarily with biology and some physics that they considered purely speculative (Big Bang stuff). A quick Google search does turn up this craziness though. Apparently Mark is right, it is about infinities.Report

          • Avatar DRS says:

            It’s kind of not fair to talk about him when he’s not here.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Eh, think of it as us talking about any other internet commentator. We don’t need Andrew Sullivan here to talk about Andrew Sullivan’s general view of something. I don’t think we need Tom here to talk about his general view of something.Report

            • Avatar mark boggs says:

              Well I’m sorry, DRS, I just spend a bit of time at the American Creation blog where TVD still writes occasionally and comments frequently. The topic of this OP is right up their alley. And to be fair, I was trying to give the man a compliment by saying that his knowledge might prove helpful in this discussion, if only because he tends to come at it, if often too strongly, from the other direction.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              I will note that this entire sub thread is a testament to his legacy. Even after he’s departed TVD still inspires TVD threads. That’s pretty damn impressive, I’m a little jealous personally.Report

  4. Within a decade, Holt, Rinehart and Winston – the largest publisher of high school health textbooks – began publishing textbooks that eliminated any acknowledgment of the existence of gay people.

    I think you’re wrong to call them out for factual inaccuracy here, Tod. You fail to grasp that, had movement conservatism been successful in all of its policy goals, there wouldn’t actually have been any gay people in existence. Ipso facto, the textbooks would have been accurate.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      You fail to grasp that, had movement conservatism been successful in all of its policy goals, there wouldn’t actually have been any gay people in existence.

      It’d be more of an Iranian mythos there – remember how Ackmadoodyhead showed up and told a crowd at a debate at Columbia University “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who has told you we have that.”Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      You fail to grasp that, had movement conservatism been successful in all of its policy goals, there wouldn’t actually have been any gay people in existence.

      Awesome. Gay people are quite obviously constructs of the radical liberal agenda. They’re nothing more than further evidence that liberals will stop at nothing (NOTHING!) to humiliate destroy conservatism.Report

  5. Avatar dhex says:

    i like the painting up top because it inspired this painting


    (nsf gore related issues)Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

      It shows global warning?Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        not the al gore kind, unless you’re one of those al gore is a front for the illuminati types.

        i kinda love jesus junk, since i live in a place that’s largely free of it. the closest we get are little chabad kids asking every adult male if they’re jewish when the mitzvah tank is in the neighborhood.

        that some guy made the original painting above and then annotated it on his website (in case the symbolism was too opaque) is absolutely delightful. i like the cool hollywood guy the most in the original and eviscerated abe lincoln in the improved version. it plays into everyone’s stereotypes, helps people feel superior to their enemies, and even in making people angry/”angry” brings them a kind of joy.

        sports bar ist krieg!Report

  6. Avatar mark boggs says:

    The sad thing about all of this is that there is an actual and fascinating nuance to the whole American founding that neither is explicitly Christian nor is it explicitly non-religious. But unfortunately, the two sides who don’t see it that way don’t want to have that conversation or acknowledge that there might be a whole lot more gray to the issue.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Agreed. The truth is that some parts of America were founded to act as religious refugee centers. Ironically most of these are now in the liberal parts of the United States. Namely Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maryland.

      Others were founded for pure economic adventuring like Virginia, New York (originally Dutch), etc.

      Others like Georgia were granted charters for non-religious and non-economic reasons.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    According to Mel Gabler, his son presented him with materials that showed the school was teaching children that the Founding Fathers had wanted the United States to be a dictatorship; the son also showed Norma that American encyclopedias had removed the word “God” from the text of the Gettysburg address. (I confess I find both of these claims – that 1961 public school textbooks promoted dictatorships and encyclopedias from that same period looked to purge references to God – highly dubious.)

    Now, I was taught that there were a number of founders who wanted to crown George Warshington the King of the US (and call him “Your Highness”) but George Warshington, in his wisdom, kept it to two terms and “President”.

    If *THAT* is the info they’re referring to, it’s info that made its way to me in the 80’s.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      The way the schools fed it when I was young it was phrased along the lines of “see, the USA is SO MUCH BETTER than any of those monarchy-papist european nations because even though they discussed a bunch of titles like calling the president ‘His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of the Rights of the Same’ or ‘His Elective Majesty’ they decided to do no titles whatsoever and even forbade titles of hereditary nobility in the constitution.”

      In terms of historical truth, there was a lot of that going around. Some of that was idolization of Washington, some of it was a hope to puff up their executive with a title so as to make European powers see him on equal terms diplomatically, and some of it was just an attachment to nobility-titles as such.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        In all honesty, this is one of the things the US did well. Whoo for elimination of the hereditary nobility!Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          I agree it’s a good move for creating a non-monarchical society. I don’t agree with all the manifest destiny-style jingoistic rhetorical bullshit it was spun into by right wingers while I was a kid.Report

  8. Avatar J says:

    Some students are being taught that Judaism is a “flawed” and “incomplete” religion.

    Well, sure, that’s pretty accurate. But of course it’s true about all the others as well.Report

  9. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I am going to concur with Kazzy’s sigh.

    Especially the Judaism being flawed and incomplete.Report

  10. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Time to wonder whether a course that teaches Judaism is incomplete violates the 1st Amendment (probably) and Civil Rights Act of 1964 (probably), and other stuff.Report

  11. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    Instructional materials that say human racial differences can be traced to Noah’s ark.

    WTF?? STILL? I know that was around (and fairly prevalent) at the least through the 1960s, and was used as one of the justifications of segregation, discrimination, and the general idea of black people as inferior. But I was hoping that the South has at least progressed a little bit in the last half-century!

    That is really, really disturbing that that’s still around and being taught, and especially that it’s being taught in public schools!

    A lot of what I hear about the South goes to reinforce my idea that the place wasn’t Reconstructed nearly enough.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      A good chunk of the deep seated opposition to public schools (and indeed teacher’s unions as well, since they shield teachers from angry parents) is the fact that schools often teach things that parents don’t want their kids learning.

      Like the age of the earth.

      Or expose them to books and viewpoints the parents don’t want them seeing — whether it’s Lord of the Flies or Shakespeare or Harry Potter.

      And in the south, well — yeah, some of it is the fact that just by grouping kids together they poor, malleable tots might learn that blacks or gays are people to.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      A lot of what I hear about the South goes to reinforce my idea that the place wasn’t Reconstructed nearly enough.

      +1 Googolplex.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      If Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything it’s that forcibly reforming a culture from outside is effectively impossible.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW says:

        Depends of the degree of differences between the two cultures. Denazification worked.

        And beyond that – the United States has a responsibility to its citizens to uphold their legal and constitutional rights. By ending Reconstruction when it did and allowing southern governments to institutionalize disenfranchisement and Jim Crow, it refused to carry out that fundamental responsibility. Not only that, a government that chooses to turn a blind eye while terrorists systematically murder its citizens is ignoring its most basic obligations.Report

  12. Avatar Morat20 says:

    HB-1287 may well have been meant to improve scholarship and promote religious freedom and diversity in public schools.

    It wasn’t. It was meant to allow bible study in public schools. Sadly, that Christian hating Supreme Court wouldn’t allow it because of all the liberal atheist commies, so you had to wink-and-nod it.

    It was pretty obvious from both the sponsers, their statements on record, and the groups lining up to provide material that it was gonna be evangelical Protestantism coupled with bashing any other religion that came up for “balance”.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      Er, shouldn’t Bible study be allowed in schools – not as a class, but if kids want to form a Bible study group like they would any other club, shouldn’t they be allowed to?Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        As a club, yes. As a teacher- driven class? Generally no, because it applies the imprint of the state to a particular religion.

        Nothing stops bible clubs, lunchtime bible readings between students, students reading the bible, prayer meetings before or after school…these things are ridiculously common. (Indeed, trying to ban them will bring the ACLU down on you like a sack of bricks).

        But a class dedicated to Christian theology? A specific sect’s? Good lord no.

        But that’s what the sponsers of 1287 really wanted — in their heads, of course, it was their theology not their heretic neighbors — but Bible Study doesn’t fly constitutionally, so they went with ‘comparative theology’ (a good college class, but wasted on all but a relative handful of high schoolers) that would, wink-and-nudge, turn into Bible Study.

        As, in fact, it did.Report

      • Avatar Pub Editor says:

        if kids want to form a Bible study group like they would any other club, shouldn’t they be allowed to?

        They are allowed to do so: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_News_Club_v._Milford_Central_School

        “Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98 (2001), held that when a government operates a ‘limited public forum,’ it may not discriminate against speech that takes place within that forum on the basis of the viewpoint it expresses—in this case, against religious speech engaged in by an evangelical Christian club for children.”Report

        • Avatar KatherineMW says:

          Thank you! I’d heard about the issue generally but wasn’t clear what the law on it was.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Student clubs = okay. Teacher led classroom = bad.

            Basically sort it in your head like this: The school, and specifically the teachers, stand in place of the state. They speak as authority figures to children, and act in lieu of parents.

            So basically religious teaching from them carries a certain weight of authority, both state AND parental, to kids. So that’s a big no-no, because you’re basically using the state to preach a religion.

            If there’s an open club, where students can join or not, and there’s no pressure to do either — that’s different, even if a teacher leads it. It’s a meeting of people who share beliefs, not a state figure lecturing to a captive audience.

            In general, the older the kids get the more leeway on things, but there’s a pretty sizable bar for anything that even hints at captive audiences or coercion.Report

            • Avatar Dan Miller says:

              There’s also a difference between groups that are explicitly religiously focused (Sunnydale High Christian Students Association) vs. injecting religion into events that could easily be secular (prayers before football games). The latter is much more problematic, since it carries more of an implication that you have to be a member of a certain religion in order to fully participate in the civic life of the school and the community.Report

  13. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    And there’s no Establishment Clause lawsuit challenging all this? I find that hard to believe.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      As long as the law’s wording is legal, one can claim the application is ‘misguided’ by any school district caught.

      And few people wish to rock the boat, especially over a class they don’t have to take, so who is going to go through the effort and harassment of sueing?

      My high school was fairly liberal by Texas standards, at least outside of the Austin/San Antonio areas, and I can think of a half-dozen Church/State infringements that were practically daily occurances. The South is a different country. 🙂Report

    • Avatar Pub Editor says:

      It appears that some people did challenge “all this” ten years ago, and they were shot down by the Fifth Circuit: Chiras v. Miller, 432 F.3d 606 (2005).

      Although it appears that the Chiras plaintiffs framed the case as a Free Speech controversy, not an Establishment Clause controversy. That may have been a tactical error; I don’t know enough to judge. But what people will remember is, “Those other people fought this on First Amendment grounds, and they lost.”

      Here’s the Fith Circuit’s conclusion: “We affirm the district court’s judgment dismissing Appellants’ First Amendment claims, although we do so on different grounds. First, the selection of textbooks by the state for use in public school classrooms is government speech, and is not subject to the forum analysis of Hazelwood or the viewpoint neutrality requirement. As a result, there is no forum to which Appellant Chiras can claim a right of access. Second, even assuming that public school students possess a cognizable right to receive information, that right does not extend to the selection of textbooks for use in the classroom. Because we conclude that Appellant Chiras has not stated a claim as a textbook author to access the Board’s list of approved textbooks and Appellant Rodriguez has not stated a claim as a student to compel the Board to select textbooks of her choosing, we affirm the district court’s judgment in favor of Appellees.”Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        By “all this” I refer most specifically to the bullet point list near the beginning of the OP. The grounds you state in Chiras don’t even seem calculated to address the things that bother me. While I think the endorsement test is the valid and proper approach for Establishment Clause cases, there remains some obscurity there.

        What isn’t obscure, though, is Lemon v. Kurtzman. Still good law more than forty years later.

        The “secular legislative purpose” prong is questionable based on the facts Tod recites. The “primary effect” prong, though, is where the clearest obstacle remains. Students read in textbooks, which they are told by the state are authoritative by virtue of the state saying “we approve of these books,” which do things like encourage students to adopt Christianity (“May this study be of value to you. May you fully come to believe that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.’ And may you have ‘life in His name.’”) and disparage other religions (“Judaism is a “flawed” and “incomplete” religion. “) just plain isn’t going to cut it if the test is applied (in a principled fashion).Report

  14. Avatar Pinky says:

    Actually, the report details that this stuff isn’t coming from textbooks. It’s in supplemental materials that aren’t part of the textbooks. So the argument that this will infiltrate other states seems specious.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      I think you conflated two points — I think the OP really should have separated out the textbook thing from religion class a bit more cleanly — Texas’ outsized textbook orders really shape the market, and it’s the rewriting of history and social studies in general that’s problematic.

      It’s true the religious stuff is mostly in supplemental material or district-chosen texts, not state.

      The Texas textbooks are being chosen — and written for — a state school board that is heavily conservative, lacks relevant expertise (they are neither educators nor experts in the fields kids are being taught. Maybe there’s one, but the last President was a dentist), and has a definite ax to grind and wants books to reflect that. They’re quite smart about evolution — courts have boxed them in and they want to be careful — but the conservative history slant is pretty blatant.

      In their defense, they really do seem to believe Ronald Reagan single-handedly won the Cold War, saved capitalism, led to the boom of the 90s, and possibly cured cancer.Report

  15. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Anyone who teaches religion needs at minimum an elementary understanding of hermeneutics.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

      A “minimum” of knowledge about textual interpretation (or the specifics of religions) is fine, in the way that high school history teachers only need a minimum of knowledge about the methodologies (or the controversies about methodologies) deployed by academic historians. Teachers can’t always have PhD-level knowledge about history, math. literature, or religion just to teach it.

      I really like Daniel Dennet’s proposal that all kids should be taught comparative religion fairly extensively. He mentions it in “Breaking the Spell” and here: http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/daniel_c_dennett/2009/09/teach_our_children_well_1.html


      “Let’s get more education about religion into our schools, not less. We should teach our children creeds and customs, prohibitions and rituals, the texts and music, and when we cover the history of religion, we should include both the positive-the role of the churches in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, the flourishing of science and the arts in early Islam, and the role of the Black Muslims in bringing hope, honor and self-respect to the otherwise shattered lives of many inmates in our prisons, for instance-and the negative-the Inquisition, anti-Semitism over the ages, the role of the Catholic Church in spreading AIDS in Africa through its opposition to condoms.”

      At the lonk Dennet addresses worries about the politicization of the content. But he seems to be a bit too optimistic, given the furiously willfull ignorance of the Texas State Board. (Was there a cool episode of Frontline on the Texas Board of Taliba… Education recently, or did I drink too much again?)Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      But the parents clamoring for these classes don’t want that. They — by and large — want Bible School. They want their specific theology taught, and if other religions or sects are brought up, it’s to show how poorly they fare or misguided they were.

      In more diverse communities, it’s watered down enough so that, say, the fundamentalist Protestants can all get along (nobody talks about when you’re baptized or whatever particular theological quirks seperate them).

      But by and large, these classes are not organized to teach about religions of the world. Their purpose is rarely for education — but rather indoctrination — or at least reinforcement.

      I’ve met these parents before, seen them at school board meetings, listened to them and what they want. And with very few exceptions, what they want is the school to reinforce and supplement their children’s religious education. Teach them about Jesus’s words and how they apply, teach them about how America is a Christian land full of Christians like them, teach them how the other religions are wrong and violent and mistaken and heretical…

      If you start from the notion that 1287 here had ANYTHING to do with ‘education’ in the sense of ‘learning about something in a semi-unbiased way’, you’re gonna miss the end result.

      Those schools identified in the OP? Those weren’t misusing the law to evangelicize. They were using the law [i]as it was intended to be[/i]. The spirit of the law — the letter was, of course, written to satisfy those atheists and Christian haters on the Supreme Court.Report

  16. Avatar Stillwater says:

    I’m reminded of some movie dialogue: “Fuckabees”.Report

  17. Avatar zic says:

    We used to attend a family reunion every couple of years at the YMCA of the Rockies. One year, several bus loads of Southern Baptist teens arrived during our stay. And just going to the cafeteria was an eye-opening experience. But my favorite was a brief encounter standing in the line for food.

    Girl One: So, what do you think of that Darwin guy?

    Girl Two: He was daft in the head.

    Boy behind me: Well, I’d be daft if I didn’t naturally select either one of you.Report

  18. Avatar Angela says:

    I’ve always been interested in the role of anti-Catholism in the formation of the parish school systems. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Catholicism_in_the_United_States
    It’s one thing to not have your religion/faith tradition taught in school; it’s much more problematic if your kids are being actively taught your religion is evil / satanic.

    The thing that bothers me the most about the Texas BOE (and textbooks from them) is that it’s not staying in religion class, or even comparative religions as part of social studies. It’s bleeding into history and biology. Trying to teach the history and founding of the country without talking about religion is impossible, and I think we (as a country) swung too far that way in the 70s and 80s. But this kind of garbage makes me mad.
    Not to mention erasing gays from existence.

    I understand the concern parents have about what is taught in schools, and wanting to control what and when their children are exposed to issues and concepts. But these types of efforts corrupt the ideas of parental control, turning it into an attempt to control other families.

  19. Avatar Julia says:

    Why should Public Schools be teaching the Bible in the first place? For Religious Education, we should send our children to our particular Private Religious School at our own expense. In essence we have chosen a Religious Education and choices come with consequences; in this case, we pay for them with dollars.

    Public education should be the presentation of facts or ideas and the student learns to make decisions based on the information that they receive. If they have a church upbringing, they would also incorporate those ideas into their decision making process. Our children are not robots! Let them think and draw conclusions….Report