A Board Divided by Faith or Contempt?

by Dan Quinn

We have heard the Texas State Board of Education‘s far-right members claim over and over again that they are unfairly attacked for their fundamentalist religious views. They do so even as they seek to inject those narrow views into curriculum standards for our state’s public schools, whether it’s by promoting creationist arguments against evolution or objecting to students learning how the Constitution bars government from promoting (or disfavoring) one religion over all others. And often their own words betray a disregard for others — including other people of faith — who don’t share their particular religious views. New case in point: Don McLeroy statements on a PBS program last week.

Speaking on the PBS program Religion and Ethics Newsweekly last Friday (April 30), the College Station Republican talked about how he thinks different board members deal with recommendations they get from educators, curriculum specialists and scholars:

“Conservatives on our board are the only ones—the Christian conservatives—that are able to sit there and to think for themselves and say, well, wait. Is this really good policy? Should we just trust what’s being brought to us? Should we just rubber-stamp it?”

At first blush, this comment sounds similar to McLeroy’s infamous declaration last year that “somebody’s gotta stand up to experts!” But that only reveals his contempt for facts and real expertise. What is perhaps more disturbing here is his contempt for people who don’t share his fundamentalist religious views. In fact, he seems to believe that only “Christian conservatives” really understand the truth in the controversies that plague the board (controversies McLeroy and his far-right colleagues have created themselves).

It’s only “Christian conservatives” who “are able to sit there and to think for themselves”? Really? All the other board members, Democrats or Republicans, just want to “rubber-stamp” what experts are telling them? And if board members shouldn’t listen to classroom teachers and scholars — real experts — who should they listen to for reliable information? People pushing ideological agendas?

Last year during the debate over science curriculum standards in Texas, the religious right — including some board members — repeatedly attacked the faith and morals of people who want to teach that evolution is accepted, mainstream science. (See here and here for examples.) During the same debate, McLeroy endorsed a book that said parents who want to teach their children about evolution are “monsters.” And in 2005, McLeroy suggested in a church lecture that opposition to evolution is a prerequisite for being a real Christian. Here’s what he said during that lecture when he noted the state board’s debate over proposed new biology textbooks two years earlier:

“(T)he four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board were the only ones who were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say that they don’t present the weaknesses of evolution.”

Apparently, he thinks all the other board members were “unorthodox” Christians.

When the Texas Senate last year refused to confirm McLeroy’s nomination for a second term as state board chairman, his supporters disingenuously claimed that McLeroy was being persecuted for his Christian beliefs. McLeroy himself has made similar statements since then. Yet here we are, once again listening to him dismiss those who don’t share his narrow religious views. Is it any wonder that other people of faith — never mind people who practice no religion — are appalled when they watch this state board at work?

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