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Melissa Rogers, professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School, is keeping a close eye on the Saddleback Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion. The forum, to be hosted by Dr. Rick Warren (founding pastor of the 22,000-member Orange County, Calif. megachurch), will feature Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain making their first joint appearance since the primaries on Saturday, August 16, 2008.

Beyond keeping tabs on the approaching events, Rogers, who is also the founder and director of Wake Forest’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, notes that Dr. Warren has taken a different tact than some other religious-right leaders:

One of the things that did not draw much notice in the announcement of the Warren-McCain-Obama confab is the fact that the presidential interviews will be conducted under the auspices of the Saddleback Civil Forum (in partnership with the multi-faith group, Faith in Public Life), not under the auspices of Warren’s church.

Warren distinguishes between his job as a Christian minister and his administration of the Saddleback Civil Forum. Warren says his “primary calling” is as a Christian minister who “proclaim[s] the Gospel Truth of… Read More

Constitutional scholar and Baptist minister John Ferguson yesterday weighed in on the vague, very general Bible curriculum standards adopted by the State Board of Education in the Abilene Reporter News:

As a father and a man of faith, I am concerned whenever government gets involved in my religion or my kids’ lives. Then when the state starts pushing local school districts to venture into a controversial and lawsuit-inspiring area that interferes with both, my consternation may very well turn into action (especially in an election year).

Ferguson was dumbfounded to find that the board created “aerobics standards [that] are specific to the point of making sure students can identify appropriate footwear” but found Bible classes to require only a “half-page of vague standards.”

Further, Ferguson, who has advised school districts across the country on teaching academically sound and constitutional Bible classes, eviscerates the board’s decision to refuse the advice offered by experts in the fields of law and biblical studies in designing effective standards. The board’s decision, in effect, forces local districts to spend taxpayer money to research and design their own Bible curricula. (A Texas Freedom Network Education FundRead More

The Texas State Board of Education is getting national attention over its irresponsible approach to teaching about the Bible in the state’s public schools. Writer David Walters at Newsweek/Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog notes his own concerns.

The board says the purpose of the course is to “teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.” The course “shall not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective.”

Have these people read the Bible? The one that sometimes endorses, favors, promotes, disfavors or shows hostility toward particular religions or nonreligious or religious perspectives? Even the most learned, rational and open-minded people can disagree about such simple issues as the Bible’s place in American history and public policy.

You cannot understand America or its institutions without understanding the Bible and its influence. But how do you teach about the Bible without teaching a Bible class?… Read More

by TFN

Compared to two years ago, it appears that voucher sugardaddy James Leininger has pulled back a bit (so far) in his donations to candidates for state office. Leininger is the state’s biggest financial supporter of private school voucher schemes. (You can read more about Leininger in a 2006 Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report on the religious right in Texas.) Vouchers take money from public schools to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. Over the years Leininger has poured millions of dollars into the campaigns of pro-voucher Republicans, including current Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Leininger has funneled a lot of that money through political action committees. That strategy can give him and his hired hands more control over the campaigns of candidates he supports. So far in 2007-08 election cycle, however, Leininger has given only about $815,000 to Republican candidates and PACs, according to reports available on the Texas Ethics Commission Web site. That compares to nearly $4 million Leininger had donated by this point in the 2005-06 cycle. More than $2.35 million of that money two years ago went to the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, a PAC that targeted five House incumbents for defeat in the Republican primaries because they opposed private school vouchers. Another $620,000 went to The Future of Texas Alliance PAC, which backed House Republican incumbents who supported vouchers. Read More

by TFN

We’ve been writing a lot about the Bible course guidelines recently adopted by the State Board of Education. But another pressing matter before the board — and one that we should be equally worried about — is what Texas students will learn about evolution in their science classes.

Creationists have long tried to include creationism or its pseudo-scientific variant “intelligent design” in science textbooks. But federal courts, most recently in Kitzmiller v. Dover, have ruled that doing so violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against government promotion of religion. Creationists, such as Texas State Board of Education chairman Dr. Don McLeroy, R-College Station, are now putting their efforts behind requiring that students learn about the so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. Never mind, of course, that scientists have repeatedly debunked those fabricated “weaknesses.” Click here to read a Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report on the state board and how the controversy over teaching evolution has developed over time.

The Austin Chronicle today — in its science fiction issue, no less — includes an informative story… Read More

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