July 17, 2024

Issues before and with Texas Board of Education

On September 11th, 2018, the Texas State Board of Education heard additional testimony following their last hearing in June: which itself was just a continuation of the same discussion from four years ago. My testimony then can be seen here.

On each of these occasions, I was there to contest the Board’s continued attempts to rewrite history and integrate church and state by implying that the United States is somehow a Christian country. This time around, I followed a line of academic scholars saying that our nation was definitely not founded on any “Judeo-Christian values”, and that Moses and the so-called Ten Commandments should be removed from the list of major influences over the founding fathers, because they were not a particular influence at all. Everyone who knows this subject knows how inappropriate it is to present our history in the politicized and religiously slanted way the SBOE always wants to.

The issues still being discussed this time were (1) whether to remove references to Moses and the Ten Commandments from the list of major influences over the founding fathers, (2) whether the Civil War was caused by the issue of slavery, or whether it was multiple different issues under the combined heading of “state’s rights”. (3) How different ethnicities are depicted or diminished in our Social Studies textbooks. And (4) a new addition, whether to describe defenders of the Alamo as “heroic”.

This last item seemed to me to be inserted as a deliberate distraction, something that would surely dominate the news of this hearing such that everyone would talk about what a great state Texas is, and to literally “remember the Alamo”, while failing to notice the other more important topics that the rest of us are still arguing over after all this time.

I’ve been commenting on the literal “white wash” of Texas history for nine years at least, but it still persists, with multiple testifiers every session complaining that their people are being poorly represented, misrepresented, or eliminated from our history books. This too appears to be deliberate, perhaps as a religious objection to multiculturalism. As was explained in my video on Orwellian Revision of History in Texas Classrooms,  Religious Right Republican Conservative Christians are well-represented on the SBOE, and they do seem determined to alter history such that it seems that only white people ever did anything noteworthy and only Christians ever did anything good.

Likewise, the claim of “states’ rights” as a cause of the Civil War persists despite there never being evidence of that whatsoever, but every expert and every primary source unanimously declares slavery to be the one-and-only whole-and-sole real cause of the Civil War and not anything else. So why won’t the SBOE correct that?

The reason is, Christian “culture warriors” on the Texas SBOE are determined to promote the concept of “American Exceptionalism”, the wholly religious [fictitious] idea that “America must always be seen as a shining beacon of what it means [for a country] to be God-blessed”. That’s the way I heard it verbally expressed. Board members have unabashedly stated that–for that reason–we should not teach anything that is embarrassing to the United States as a nation, because everything our country ever did must conform to the idea that it was all inspired according to divine providence.

Even though slavery is repeatedly permitted and promoted in the Bible, the Board would rather students not know that the United States ever endorsed slavery. Some of our history books variously described slaves as either “workers” or “immigrants”, and the name of the Atlantic Slave Trade was changed to the Atlantic Triangular Trade. And there are bits thrown in to show how these African “workers” “enjoyed” their work after embracing the spirituality of Christianity. If it doesn’t matter what the facts are, then it doesn’t matter what the truth is, meaning that it’s OK to lie to students as long as you’re lying for Jesus.

If you want to see all the testimonies in order, you can view that here. However for my purposes, I have chosen to exclude several entertaining testifiers on the matters of ethnic representation and the smoke-screen of the Alamo defenders, and I have only included testimony pertaining to the false allegations of America’s unnecessary entanglement with religion from the very beginning.

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A summary of some key participants, just so you’ll better understand what happened that day.

We begin with Reverend John Elford from University United Methodist Church in Austin, pleading with the board to tell students the truth, and not to “look for things that aren’t there”. Ken Mercer–easily the most repugnant of the willfully ignorant distorters of information on the current board–ignored that of course, and responded with his challenge to find the words “church/state separation” in the Constitution. Rev. Elford knew how to reply to that. It’s no different than telling Mercer (a trinitarian Christian) to find the word “trinity” in the New Testament. Both men would still interpret that from the text without those specific words, just as we all would for church/state separation in our founding documents, which is why we have a substantial amount of case law for that too.

Then we have Dr Emile Lester, (3:24-14:17) Professor of Political Science with the University of Virginia, and an editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Religion & Education. So his credentials are sound, and the fact that he’s Jewish is also significant with regard to his position on Moses. But more important than that, Professor Lester brought the facts that matter more: that “there’s no evidence that our founders had Moses in mind when drafting the Constitution”. Without that, we have no reason to say they did, and it would be dishonest to teach that they did. “But there is not a single letter or reference from a founder indicating that the law of Moses had an impact upon our constitutional system”.

Professor Lester also pointed out two letters in which the founding father, “John Adams openly denied that the ten commandments were the basis of our Constitution and our legal system”. There you have the clearest possible testimony from a primary source that we cannot teach otherwise, because that would be knowingly lying to students. But if all you want to do is push your religious beliefs regardless what the truth is, then you’re going to lie to other people’s children and you will do it shamelessly. Thus, as Dr Lester said, we’ve “made truth a casualty of the culture war”.

Mercer tried to twist that around too, but Lester caught him with a quote from James Madison praising the importance of Church/State separation. The best Mercer could do to counter that was to claim that there were contradictions lending to uncertainty, but that is not the case. There is no uncertainty here. The founders were consistently unambiguous in their position. So then Mercer simply ignored the facts again and returned to his original game that already failed once that day, that the words, “separation of Church and State” don’t appear in the Constitution. He is determined to pretend that church/state separation never existed and was never intended despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s not like he’ll ever admit that he’s wrong, no matter how solidly proved.

Notice, for example, when Mercer said that “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not steal” should inspire a jury? He chose the only two commandments that are actually reflected in the law, not just in our country but every system of government there ever was, even those before the alleged time of Moses. Notice that Mercer knew he could not have referenced most of the other commandments because they’re unenforceable violations of human rights, not just in the U.S. but in every other nation too. For that reason, I must contest Professor Lester on one point. The Ten Commandments are NOT great law, not even remotely, and neither he nor anyone else lives by them–fortunately.

(14:18-34:04) Dr. Kate Carte Engel, Associate professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University gave a brilliant performance. She made the critical point that the founders did not see themselves as “Judeo-Christian”. Thus it would only confuse both teachers and students to paint them as such, especially once they try to study any of the subsequent issues of religious conflicts in this country.

Dr Engel also advocates removing Moses as an inspiration of the founders, because he “doesn’t match” the other actual inspirations, being people who existed in real life. Engel put that so politely that I’m sure no one on the Board understood what she meant to imply. Board Member Pat Hardy certainly didn’t get it. Somehow she thought Engel was talking about the cause of the American revolution. So she clarified that “Moses is in the standards …for the creation of the founding documents”. Did Hardy not hear or understand anything Dr Engel had just said? Nor anything the Reverend or the Jewish professor said prior to that? Moses had nothing whatsoever to do with the inspiration for–or drafting of–the U.S. Constitution, but Pat Hardy isn’t going to hear that.

When we were here last time, in June, Hardy said then that “It was Judeo-Christian that created what we have”. But it wasn’t. That was the point being repeated by every scholar with expertise in this area, not just this time, but every time. Hardy is never gonna get that. She’s not a smart person. She doesn’t know enough to know what she doesn’t know. She believes something else and will never understand that it’s wrong or even that all the experts are telling her that it’s wrong.

She thinks this country was initially founded by the Pilgrims!? In fact their mismanagement of a pre-American British colony was so grotesque that it’s one of the reasons our founders were moved to establish the world’s first secular government. Benjamin Franklin even said as much in his 1772 Letter to the London Packet.

Then of course Mr Mercer has to remind us yet again that the words “church/state separation” aren’t in the Constitution. There are people on this Board who don’t and won’t understand what they’re reading nor what the experts are all saying. They have an agenda to teach American Exceptionalism, and that means telling students that our country was founded on the Judeo-Christian lawgiver, Moses, and they’re still going to teach that even if they know every part of that is wrong.

(34:05-47:34) Jonathan Saenz is a culture warrior and a regular fixture at these events. The very first time I testified before the Board back in 2013, Saenz was there demonstrating his misunderstanding and misrepresentation of science, as you can see in my video highlights from the meeting of the board. When I testified before the State House last year, he was there again, supporting a bill promising public school science teachers the “academic freedom” to cite anti-science religious propaganda from sources like AnswersInGenesis, Institute for Creation Research, and the Discovery Institute. Apart from promoting pseudoscience nonsense, Saenz also founded a homophobic “faith family & freedom” organization called “Texas Values”, where he litigates against gay rights; which makes it all the more ironic that his wife left him for a lesbian. Apart from hating gays, his organization seems dedicated to preserving and advancing Religious Right Republican Conservative Christian bigotry in all avenues including science, sex or social studies in our public schools.

This time around, Saenz seems to be channeling former chairman of the Board, Don McLeroy: a creationist who famously rejected the testimony of 150 scientists explaining evolution, saying that he (a dentist) had to “stand up to experts”. Note that Saenz is now literally telling the Board to ignore these “unelected” experts, by which he means both those providing testimony and those serving on the review committee fact-checking all this. Instead he says the Board should vote how they want to, regardless of expert recommendation. Or [he says] they should be listening to “other people”, implying people who are NOT experts.

Saenz is a lawyer, yet he could not or would not understand the challenge put to him by Board member, Marisa Perez-Diaz, when she asked who then should fact check these standards if not for educated specialists in this subject? Of course he knows what the right answer is, but he can’t admit that, because he’s made a career out of being on the wrong side of everything. So while everyone else is praising the importance of primary sources, Saenz says that we can ignore what the founders said in 1776, and instead refer to what a Catholic judge said about them two centuries later, in 2005.

Did Saenz believe that only Supreme Court justices could fact check high school social studies standards? Of course not, but his deflection from that revealed another error too. In the case of Van Orden v Perry, neither the Supreme Court nor the prior court properly applied the Lemon test regarding a monument to the Ten Commandments at the State Capital building in Austin Texas. Instead the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the monument “served a valid secular purpose and would not appear to a reasonable observer to represent a government endorsement of religion”. Yet that is exactly what Saenz is saying now, that the placement of that monument represents the United States’ basis in Judeo-Christian belief. So even he sees it as a government endorsement of religion and as a legal precedent to exacerbate that.

It’s not just Saenz either. I know reasonable people too who see such monuments as a state endorsement of religion. In fact, Justice Stevens said the display transmits the message that Texas specifically endorses the Judeo-Christian values of the display and thus, the display violates the establishment clause. So Saenz’ own citation both fails to support him and argues against him. Or rather, Saenz is arguing against his own case and doesn’t realize it.

(47:35-49:48) Saenz’ subordinate, Nicole Hudgens brought up the notion of eugenics, a process of differential breeding, which I’m sure she doesn’t understand was actually employed by her own religion down through the ages. I explained that in a speech about the Erroneous Association of Evolution and Racism for Darwin Day for Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Hudgens has eugenics confused with the systematic genocide of the Third Reich. She says she wants students to be taught what really happened with the Holocaust, which she and Mercer both linked to eugenics. But I’m sure neither of them want to teach that a Catholic dictator committed genocide out of his religiously-motivated hatred of the Judeo part of his Christian values.

In the Q&A, (53:39-58:40) Ken Mercer showed a Pavlovian response to the word, “eugenics”, which he linked to [what he called] “Darwinian Socialist theory”, which he connects to Adolf Hitler, just as Ms Hudgens did. He either meant to refer to Social Darwinism, or because he doesn’t know what that is either, he may not realize that Darwinian theory is biological and Social Darwinism is economic and neither one has any relation to the other. Mr Mercer still didn’t understand that even after another testifier, Greg Harrell (1:01:48-1:05:49) tried to explain to him that eugenics and social Darwinism and race relations are not the same thing. Mercer just skipped right over that correction.

I’m sure Mr Mercer has bought into ye olde creationist nonsense that “evolution[ism]” is connected with the greatest evil ever in history. That’s a common creationist distortion that I’ve heard repeated many times. But the fact is that Hitler was a creationist who ordered Darwin’s books to be burnt, and Darwin was a humanist who wrote of his outrage against Eugenics. I explain this in detail in my video about Racial Darwinism. Not that either Mercer or Hudgens would ever watch it or even care to know the truth about that.

I’m sure Mr Mercer wouldn’t admit this error even under bribery or duress, because it doesn’t matter to him what the truth is; all that matters is whether you believe the required propaganda perpetuating preferred apologetics. But the funny thing is that the mention of eugenics that was to be struck referred not to Nazis but to American eugenics, which Mercer wouldn’t want to teach anyway, because that would challenge American Exceptionalism.

(49:49-50:57) I think it’s cute that Darren Huff actually thought the SBOE would review and consider the 30-page report posted by the Texas Freedom Network, The TFN has historically opposed this Board on every wrong direction the Board chose to go. And as we’ve already seen over and over again, the voting bloc of religious conservatives simply do not care what the truth is.

(51:04-53:38) Lt. Col. Roy White is the founder of “Truth in [Texas] Textbooks“, a group that is actually working to preserve certain errors in those books. Lieutenant Colonel White explains on his website much the same paranoid delusion of Christian persecution as Mr Saenz has; that there is a “culture war” wherein students are “brainwashed and indoctrinated” into not-religion by “degrading American Exceptionalism”. I also think it’s funny how he refers to the Deistic god without realizing that, and that he keeps saying “Judy O’Christian”.

One of his associates, Dr Amy Jo Baker couldn’t be there this time, but she was there in June, and she was the subject of my previous blog post on “Truth” in Texas Textbooks, because of a number of errors she endorsed at that time. In fact my testimony in this hearing began with a rebuttal of one of her mistakes, an admittedly bogus quote perpetuated by that fraudulent fundamentalist, David Barton and erroneously attributed to James Madison.

Finally, you can see my testimony at (1:08:45-1:10:29) sandwiched between that of Eric Murphy (1:05:50-1:08:40) and Jamie Boon (1:10:32-1:12:49) both of whom I dragged over from the Atheist Community of Austin.

If you’re already familiar with the Texas State Board of Education, then you won’t be surprised to find out that even after hearing all this testimony, they once again voted not for reason but for religion, opting to take the most inappropriate course and deliberately lie to students in our public schools; to perpetuate yet another myth already known to be false, which is what religion always does.

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