Religious Freedom

The Texas Freedom Network supports the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state, which protects the right of all Americans to practice the faith of their choice, or none at all, free of government interference.

Unfortunately, efforts to knock down that wall are a constant in Texas. Politicians and activists continually work to impose their views on others, especially around issues like abortion and access to contraception. And in a distortion of the principle of religious freedom, far-right groups have supported legislative efforts to allow individuals to use religion as an excuse to ignore laws they might not like and even as a weapon to discriminate against others.

Resources

Prayer in Public Schools: A Primer (2001 report)

The Texas Faith-Based Initiative (2002 report)NDOP_Report_2005_Revised

A Report on The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (2005 report)

Reading, Writing & Religion: Teaching the Bible in Texas Public Schools (2006 report)

Reading, Writing & Religion II (2013 report)

Can This Class Be Saved? The ‘Hobby Lobby’ Public School Bible Curriculum (2014 report)

When we published Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011-12, we expected pushback from some of the districts we discussed. But no one has protested more vigorously than the minister who authored the Amarillo Independent School District’s Bible curriculum and currently teaches its course. This teacher has complained loudly and repeatedly to the local press that we seriously misrepresented his materials–basically, that we broke the commandment not to bear false witness.

Actually, we just did with the Amarillo course materials exactly what we did with those from other problematic classes: we quoted from them verbatim and pointed out ways in which they fell short academically or unconstitutionally promoted one religious viewpoint over others.

When it comes to Amarillo’s Bible course, we found a lot of problematic elements, but the one that has the received the most attention is a chart titled “Racial Origins Traced from Noah.”

A test question shows that students were expected to know the chart, asking: “Shem is the father of a) most Germanic races B) the Jewish people  C) all African people.”

Our report cited this approach as a red flag: “The idea that racial… Read More

UPDATE: Rep. Flynn apparently has pulled HJR 43 from committee consideration today. We’ll keep an eye on it.

The absurd campaign to ban the mythical threat of Sharia law (Islamic law) in Texas has returned to the state Capitol. Today the House State Affairs Committee will consider a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that says state courts “may not enforce, consider, or apply any religious or cultural law.” Efforts in 2011 to pass similar measure failed, although proponents kept trying into the summer.

HJR 43, by state Rep. Dan Flynn, is based on similar measures that have been pushed in various states. (In 2011, we looked at the man behind the anti-Sharia bills around the country.) Earlier efforts in other states ran into constitutional problems because they singled out Sharia law, making their anti-Muslim bias obvious. So supporters dropped those specific references to Sharia law and, like HJR 43, seek a broad ban on “religious or culture law.” But hysteria over Islam typically take center stage during debates over these measures.

We have a briefing paper on HJR 43 here, but here are the key points about HJR 43… Read More

Students in some Texas public school Bible courses learn that the Founding Fathers were largely orthodox Protestant Christians who intended for the United States to be a distinctively Christian nation with laws and a form of government based on the Bible. Countless historians and other scholars have shown how such claims are distortions, but those distortions are core beliefs among ideologues on the religious right. The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund’s new report, Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011-12 by Prof. Mark Chancey at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, documents one prominent way such courses promote this ideological perspective: “proof by sound bite.” From the report:

“The most common technique for making such arguments is to string together quotations lauding the Bible, Christianity or religion in general from political philosophers, historic documents, the Founding Fathers and other famous Americans. These quotations are typically cited in a completely decontextualized manner, almost as if they are biblical proof texts with self-evident meanings. Fake quotes never actually uttered by the speaker to whom they are attributed are cited side by side with legitimate ones. Even authentic quotes are sometimes presented in such a way as… Read More

The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund’s newest study of Texas public school Bible courses reveals that many of these classes promote faith beliefs as fact. Such courses clearly veer from the academic to the devotional, violating both Texas law and the U.S. Constitution. The report, Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011-12 by Prof. Mark Chancey at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, includes this PowerPoint slide from Dalhart ISD in the Texas Panhandle:

School districts across Texas offer many other examples of Bible courses that have turned public school classrooms into Sunday school classrooms. For example, the only classroom resource listed by Lazbuddie ISD declares in its introduction:

“Don’t worry about scriptures you do not understand. Simply concentrate on what God reveals to you in His Word and trust Him to make the vague things clearer to you as you continue to study.”

From materials used in Eastland ISD:

“The Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by over 40 different authors from all walks of life: shepherds, farmers, tent-makers, physicians, fishermen, priests, philosophers and kings. Despite these differences in occupation and the span of years… Read More

Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy has an interesting Twitter post:

“Ex-SBOE Chair @DonMcLeroy likes @TFN’s report on preachy Bible lessons: “I agree. That shouldn’t be in  public schools.”

Well, good for Don. Maybe he can help persuade fellow creationists who sit on the state board now that they should adopt real curriculum standards that take a study of the Bible’s influence in history and literature seriously. Back in 2008 the state board threw school districts under the bus by adopting such overly broad and vague standards that they offered almost no help at all in creating good courses. So it shouldn’t be surprising that public schools today are teaching nonsense about the Bible that racists and anti-Semites have used for centuries to justify their bigotry.

The TFN Education Fund’s report includes many other examples of serious flaws in Texas public school Bible courses. You can read a short overview of the report here. The new report is available here. Our previous reports on public school Bible classes are here and here.… Read More