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by TFN

Today is the deadline to sponsor the Texas Freedom Network’s 13th Annual Celebration. All of the work we do — from battling religious extremists on the State Board of Education to defending religious freedom, civil liberties and public education in the Legislature — depends on the support we get from people who share these mainstream values.

This year’s party — our biggest annual event — is Oct. 4 at La Zona Rosa in downtown Austin. You don’t want to miss the great music, Austin’s best silent auction and the opportunity to gather with so many other supporters of mainstream values TFN promotes throughout the year.

The Texas Freedom Network is the only broad-based, grassroots organization dedicated to fighting the religious right in this state. Of course, it’s easy in an election year to overlook the important battles over public policy outside the campaign arena. We hope you won’t. An important session of the Texas Legislature is just months away, and we’re on the eve of a critical debate on the State Board of Education over whether our kids’ science education will be held hostage to the fanaticism of religious extremists. Please take this opportunity to help ensure that the mainstream… Read More

This Saturday (August 16) Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain will speak at Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum. The presidential contenders will be interviewed separately by Warren on issues such as AIDS, poverty and social justice.

As we noted earlier, this appearance by political candidates with an evangelical Christian leader is unique in that Warren has pointedly ensured a separation between his ministry and the forum’s purpose of public education.

“America has a choice. It’s not between a stud and a dud this year,” Warren said. “Both of these men care about America. My job is to let them share their views.”

Warren’s nuance in such matters doesn’t sit well with some on the religious right. They would prefer he focus on wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage. “He is threatening to water down the essential message of evangelical Christianity,” Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, told the Los Angeles Times.

But Warren shows a deeper — and more respectful — understanding of faith and public service. His actions seem to say that we can’t vote our values, religious or otherwise, if we don’t know the candidates’ positions on… Read More

As we learn more about recipients of new grants under the state's Dropout Recovery Pilot Program, it's becoming clearer that one key political winner is James Leininger. Leininger, a San Antonio physician and businessman, is the state's biggest financial backer of private school voucher schemes and a major donor to Gov. Rick Perry's election campaigns. On Monday a state district judge in Austin rejected the Texas State Teachers Association's request for an injunction that would have blocked the distribution of public funds to private schools through the dropout program. We told you about TSTA's request last week. In addition to the injunction request, TSTA has filed a lawsuit to stop this diversion of tax dollars to private schools. That lawsuit is pending. A look at one of the grant recipients illustrates how state education officials appointed by Gov. Perry are using the dropout program as a back-door voucher scheme. That recipient, Christian Fellowship of San Antonio, Inc., is an evangelical Christian church that established Family Faith Academy in 1998. See Christian Fellowship's grant application here. The Texas Education Agency, under the direction of Education Commissioner Robert Scott (who Gov. Perry appointed in 2007), awarded a grant to Family Faith Academy over 22 public school districts whose applications were all rejected. A 1999 Texas Observer article explained how Family Faith Academy was able to open after Leininger pledged $50 million for a privately funded voucher scheme in the Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio. Leininger said he would fund those vouchers for 10 years or until the Legislature instituted a publicly funded voucher scheme. As the Observer pointed out, Leininger's voucher funds were a boon to Family Faith Academy, which opened its doors in a former roadside bar in San Antonio. But despite the millions of dollars he has funneled to legislative election campaigns, Leininger has never succeeded in getting lawmakers to pass a publicly funded voucher scheme. So last year Leininger said he would stop funding his voucher program after the 2007-08 school year. As a result, Family Faith Academy needed another source of revenue. Now the school has it in the form of a Dropout Recovery Pilot Program grant. Support for stronger efforts to keep students in school and to help dropouts get an education is almost universal. In fact, public school districts across Texas have been implementing new and innovative programs to do just that. As TFN President Kathy Miller said in a press release: "It’s hard to believe that a private school established just 10 years ago in a former roadside bar offers a more credible dropout recovery program than 22 public school districts whose applications for a grant were rejected. Just as interesting is that this private school would get public tax dollars just as James Leininger turns off his money spigot for a privately funded voucher scheme that allowed the school to open in the first place." Read More

Texas Freedom Network has been taking fire from religious extremists on the State Board of Education for our stand on public school Bible classes. We have been very critical of the state board’s failure to adopt clear, specific curriculum standards to guide public schools in creating worthwhile, legal courses that don’t end up in court.

In pieces published by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, state board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, responded to our concerns about the lack of sound Bible class standards by repeating a disingenuous argument. Mercer claimed (again) that the Texas attorney general has given a “constitutional green light” to the vague, very general standards the state board adopted. Well, how could the attorney general object to something that says essentially nothing? The standards adopted by the state board barely even mention the Bible. Now local school districts will have to expend precious and scarce resources to develop real curriculum standards that are academically and legally appropriate — something the state board decided was just too hard to do itself.

Then Mercer repeats the falsehood that no public school district has ever been successfully sued for offering an… Read More

The uber-far-right Westboro Baptist Church led by Fred Phelps never ceases to amaze:

Canadian border guards are under orders to prevent members of a fundamentalist American church from crossing into Canada to protest at the Saturday funeral for a Winnipeg man brutally killed on a Greyhound bus last week.

Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial Kansas-based sect, intends to picket the funeral of 22-year-old Tim McLean to tell Canadians his slaying on July 30 was God’s response to Canadian policies enabling abortion, homosexuality and adultery.… Read More

Texas Freedom Network

The Tx State Board of Education will soon decide what is — and isn't — taught about #SexEducation. That's why we're partnering with comedian Owen Egerton for TFN Presents: The Best of Sex Ed, Sept. 23 @ Alamo Drafthouse-Mueller in Austin. Tickets + info:…