Clergy Take Stand on Social Studies

The State Board of Education’s reckless revisions to proposed social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools have raised serious concerns among classroom teachers and scholars regarding pedagogical issues and historical accuracy. Issues involving religious freedom are also a growing concern, however. In March the board rejected a proposed standard that would have required high school students to study how the Founders barred government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion. Some board members have suggested, instead, that the Founders actually wanted government to promote religion. They have also expressed strong opposition to separation of church and state.

At a press conference at the Texas Capitol today, a group of about two dozen interfaith clergy called on the state board to stop undermining instruction on religious freedom — including the principle of separation of church and state — in proposed new social studies curriculum standards. The clergy are members of the Texas Faith Network, a project of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The Texas Faith Network includes more than 600 mainstream and progressive clergy from around the state.

Here’s the press release from today’s event:

An interfaith group of clergy today called on the State Board of Education to stop downplaying constitutional protections for religious freedom in proposed new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools.

The board will meet in Austin on May 19-21 to debate and take a final vote on the proposed social studies standards. Because of the state’s large size, publishers will write new textbooks to meet Texas standards and then sell those books across the country.

“Our Founding Fathers understood that the best way to protect religious liberty in America is to keep government out of matters of faith,” said the Rev. Roger Paynter, pastor of Austin’s First Baptist Church. “But this state board appears hostile to teaching students about the importance of keeping religion and state separate, a principle long supported in my own Baptist tradition and in other faiths.”

Rev. Paynter spoke at a press conference with other clergy a week before the state board meets to consider final revisions to the proposed curriculum standards. Some state board members argue that the nation’s Founders wanted government to promote religion, particularly Christianity. In March the board rejected a proposed curriculum standard requiring high school government students to learn that the Founders barred government from promoting or disfavoring one religion over all others in America.

The rejection of that proposed standard was unwise because the nation’s founders saw how governments in Europe generated conflict by wedding church and state, said Robert Haas, assistant rabbi at Congregation Emanuel in Houston.

“In a country that is home to many faiths, it’s important for our students to understand that government must not pick and choose which religions to favor,” Rabbi Haas said. “That basic constitutional protection for the free exercise of religion has allowed faith to thrive in America for more than two centuries while other nations around the world have been plagued by religious conflict.”

Speakers at the press conference also included the Rev. Larry Bethune, pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin and the Rev. Valda Jean Combs, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Waco. All are part of the Texas Faith Network, which includes more than 600 mainstream clergy from around the state.

Students in American government as well as history classrooms should learn about the First Amendment’s protections for religious freedom, Rev. Combs said.

“Religion has played an important and positive role in American history, but it has been able to do so because government does not decide which faiths to promote and which to disfavor,” Rev. Combs said. “Students should graduate from Texas public schools understanding that important principle.”

32 thoughts on “Clergy Take Stand on Social Studies

  1. I appreciate the clergy on this and would gladly shake their hand for their support in educating kids.

  2. The Taliban would LOVE to be able to dictate that their religion and their religion ONLY be the one “true” religion, as would all of the Arab world.

    Sarah Palin is attempting to call the United States a Christian Nation. I call her a full blown nut case. I am not a member of a majority religion, but around the world, Christianity is a mere drop in the ocean of Islam. My religion is also my way of life. World wide we constitute perhaps 0.01% of all people, yet are considered the “mother” religion of virtually all other religions in the world.

    I have had the “pleasure” of seeing what happens when ONE religion is the majority religion in an area. As a child, I was beaten because I killed their god. Prior to the equal rights laws being passed, I was told TO MY FACE, “Oh, we’d love to hire you but we don’t hire people with your religious background.” Or, “Oh, I’m sorry, we’d love to rent to you, but we don’t rent to people like you.”

    Yeah, I know first hand about what happens when people are left to their hatred and prejudice; it isn’t nice.

    One Easter, I had to be taken to a hospital because I was STONED for killing their god…one of the rocks managed to penetrate an artery. On Christmas, things weren’t any better. Not only had I killed, somehow, their god but I did it when he was a little precious baby in his cradle.

    I’m over my loathing for Christianity and Christians; you have to grow up sooner or later. But my fear of calling this a Christian Nation tells me that I’m not welcome here and people of other religions are equally not welcome. I pray those nuts fall off their trees and rot.

  3. What a crock! It would be refreshing to see the political left cling to something, anything other than false narratives, straw-men and socialist aspirations.

    Indeed, the founders did not want a sanctioned religion at the federal level but their views as expressed in our founding documents did not reflect the “freedom from religion” farce that is so popular in some circles today. History tells us that during our nation’s inception many of the individual states did have “state religions”.

    Furthermore, this plea for separation is yet another classic double-standard on the leftist gameboard. Check out Speaker Pelosi’s recent shenanigans. I’ve yet to hear anyone denounce this little stunt.

  4. Rabble Rouser, I took up your challenge and read the text of your link and watched the video. (Ha, bet you didn’t think I would). I am no fan of Nancy Pelosi as I see her as being way too corporate-connected and corporate-controlled – as is President Obama.

    However, I’d ask you to what “false narratives, straw-men and socialist aspirations” are you referring please?

    Yes, Massachusetts was a virtual theocracy during colonial and post-colonial times. And Maryland became (maybe by default) a Catholic state since it was where Catholics escaped to in order to avoid Protestant persecution. Jews were welcome nowhere. So are you saying this situation is what you want the U.S. to be – a theocracy like Iran? If you are of the ruling religion, I suppose that would be a great situation for you as you’d be eligible for all kinds of nice perks. But what if you aren’t? Are you saying you relish the prospect of being hanged, burned, drowned, imprisoned, or expelled from your resident state because you are not of the current approved religion?

    And could you please elaborate on what it is that you see as a double-standard? There are numerous examples of conservative Christian clergy stand at their pulpits and urge their congregations whom and what proposals they should vote for and which to vote against. Are you annoyed because someone from the “other side” is asking clergy to do the same? Is that the so-called “double standard” you reference? Why is it OK for conservative clergy to preach politics from their pulpits but it’s not OK if liberal clergy do the same?

    I agree with you that if either side engages in “pulpit politics,” they should automatically lose their tax-exempt status. So yes, I hereby denounce this “stunt.” But I suppose you’re saying that only conservatives should get to maintain their tax-exempt status but not liberals. If so, YOU are the one exhibiting a double standard.

  5. The presumption that the market for school books will march to the SBOE’s drum is presumptive. Given the publicity, the more likely result will be to avoid any books approved by the TX SBOE.

    The monopoly that SBOE wields over Texas book presription can be broken with a simple law that allows the Independent School Districts to buy what they want for the kids in their system. The sharp edge on this is that many ISDs will purchase only religiously correct books, including Creationist.

  6. In America we have a problem with even the concept of religion. First of all, our only reference if the theology, the ‘freedom’ of an open religion, that has its basis in Christianity.

    Are there those who take their views to some illogical conclusion, and in their zealot’s ideology, actually loose fact that Christianity isn’t an ideology, it is a theology, and as such we all can make our own covalence as we see fit.

    To not understand that America is not a Christian nation is to reject reality. And we have never had this concept more identified with an obvious direct observation than Margaret Thatcher, who said, ‘European nations are the product of history. America foundations are based on philosophy.’

    We as a nation followed no ideals of governance, and as such created a wonder of the world that few to this day understand. It was created with the Christian concept of the most valuable entity that we should worry about is the individual. Individual freedom, choices, desires, friendships, and how each person has this inalienable right to live their rights, recognizing the rights of others, without intrusion, from either religion, or governance.

    And as this concept is only adhered to in a theology, nonexistent in any ideology or ritualism of any other concept of ‘religious’ faith know to man. And as such, there was no other foundation for the founders of this nation to follow. They knew of and dismissed such insanity as ‘islam’, ‘cannibalism’, ‘human sacrifice’, ‘self mutilation’, ‘rock worshiping’ of any of the other types of organized activity, which according to the dictionary identification make them all ‘religion’.

    Freedom, freedom is the spark, the very foundation of what makes America. Personal, individual, respected freedom, which makes the miracle of America so unique, that there is no comparison.

    And as such, it is this theology, this protection of the individual that makes the subject of religion so important in our historical foundation. And it is important that our students know that the concept of a self governing free people must have a foundation of ethical, and moral fortitude, for without it, the idea of individual freedom cannot flourish or even exist.

    Freedom means you have the right to worship as you choose, and as a society we should have the right to worship as we choose. This was so important that the state was by legislative design prohibited from dictating what and how the people should be required to worship.

    This covenant with the American people has been destroyed. Today the religion of absoluteness, the realm of Lucifer is dictated on the American people. The anti-American Supreme Court dictates that the religion of the ‘non religious’ is the official religion of the nation. The people be damned, the absolutionist, those with only the non scientific concept of there is no God, there only proof nonexistent, their religion there is no God, as Lucifer by default ruled our nation.

    We are a nation of rule by the majority, not the minority. And when the anti-American Supreme Court dictated that we must all bow down to the religion of ‘no God’, the beginning of our demise began.

  7. I read a thread a couple of weeks ago in which a religious kook stated that he thought homosexuals should be executed. He wasn’t just using a figure of speech; he meant it, and he repeated himself for clarity. Most of his kind hem and haw about it, afraid to come right out and speak their minds, but this guy didn’t. He wrote very well, organized his thoughts coherently, and had some of the most hideous attitudes I’ve ever encountered. And he was a perfect example of why separation of church and state is so critically important.

  8. I went back to that thread I mentioned above. I’d forgotten that this same loon also supported the execution of adulterers, blasphemers, and rebellious children——all those crazy “laws” in the Old Testament.

  9. “when the anti-American Supreme Court dictated that we must all bow down to the religion of ‘no God’”

    When exactly did they do that? Funny I don’t recall it.

  10. Ben, I don’t recall that ruling either. I wish they’d cite it: the case of who vs. whom, and the date please.

    Another case of religious kooks creating their own facts. I guess in that way, they are “creationists.”

  11. The United States was a Christian nation in the sense that it was taken for granted at least up until JFK was elected. Christian clearly meant Protestant, with a few Catholics around for diversity sake and because the Irish were politically powerful enough to be taken seriously. Until JFK, our foreign policies were influenced to support certain foreign leaders simply because they were Christian.

    Then came the Sixties with the counter-culture, women’s lib, open marriages, LSD and herpes. The Sixties-Seventies time frame was wild, far more wild that the accusations of the Righteous Right of today. The interesting part is that the folks who I know are Righteous today, were Radical back in those days. True Believers are notorious for switching sides.

    The assertion that the United States is legally a Christian nation is without foundation in law. There are no provisions in the Constitution which establish any religion which establishment is expressly forbidden, particularly when it comes to a religious test for office. While many states retained their original colonial diktat concerning established religion, such became unenforceable,

    The Ten Commandments are found no where in the Constitution or, for the most part, not in Federal law. If my understanding is flawed in this regard, some one cite reference to Bible v Constitution.

  12. Actually, what Dan Short says is not true—even historically. If I recall correctly, most of the U.S. Constitution was written at the convention that began in Philadelphia in 1787. It does not dwell on the rights of the individual—and certainly not black people who were counted as only a fraction of a real human being. The rights of the individual were taken care of as an afterthought because Thomas Jefferson wrote back from Paris and practically begged them to amend the constitution to state individual rights. Jefferson—the man who rewrote the Bible to his own liking—did not have a Christian fundamentalist political agenda in mind when he did it. Even the Declaration of Independence talks about people in a collective sense rather than an individual sense.

    As for “absoluteness,” the Christian Neo-Fundamentalists today are the absolutists. They are the ones who turn every verse in the Bible into a rule—and then conveniently forget what Jesus says in Matthew 23 about people who choose to operate that way. Just like Jesus says. You can pull out that rule and obey it faithfully and to the hilt—and still come out wrong and on the Highway to Hell (apologies to AC/DC).

  13. The constitutional principle of “separation between Religion and Government,” James Madison, W&MQ 3:555, is specifically stated in the Constitution–Article 6, and the First Amendment. Those of us who majored in the fields of religion and history are well aware of the history and development of the Founding Fathers’ two specific commandments rejecting establishment of religion by law by the government of the United States of America. Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island never established official religion in their states and, eventually, all states separated religion and government to significant degrees. Violations of the constitutional principle were not overcome immediately, even Congress, without approval of James Madison, established and still has a chaplain, and the effort to educate Congress and the general public continues, but the Constitution remains the supreme law of the land: “religion” shall not be established by law (First Amendment) and “no religious test shall ever be required” (Art. 6). Religion in the USA is to be voluntary, no religious tests and no laws even respecting an establishment of religion. As a graduate student I compiled the research which details America’s history regarding this issue in a book, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer:

    Gene Garman, B.A., Baylor ’62
    Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.Div. ’67

  14. Our founding Fathers were,if anything Unitarians, deists, and Transcendentalists. The suggestion that government would promote religion, especially one particular religion, testifies to the manifest failure of education in Texas, starting with the board members themselves. We are embarrassing ourselves once again, internationally.

  15. “The United States was a Christian nation in the sense that it was taken for granted at least up until JFK was elected….”

    Oh really? Since when? Since Puritans hanged Quakers in Boston Common? Anabaptists were shunned, and Anglicans (Episcopalians) weren’t too welcome either as they were too representative of England. Roger Williams was so turned-off by Massachusetts’ theocracy, he founded Rhode Island to be a colony of religious tolerance.

    Which Christianity of all the Christianities are you talking about?

    I realize my posts are ignored and everyone shuns me because it is believed I am a Marxist, but I thought I’d just throw these ideas out there.

  16. “Gene Garman, B.A., Baylor ’62
    Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.Div. ’67”

    I’m sure your credentials far exceeds those who are the true experts in the field of History, eh?

  17. The Constitution and the First Amendment were written and approved by men who read and spoke plain English, as was the fact in each of the states wherein state assemblies read and ratified the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Constitution is not written in a foreign language with words which had no meaning to the Americans who drafted and approved the words which composed the 1787 Constitution, as ratified in 1788, and the 1789 amendments, as ratified in 1791:

    The words “religious test” (Art. 6) mean the same today as they meant in 1787. The word “Congress” means the same today as it meant in 1789. The word “law” and the word “religion” mean the same in 2010 as they meant in 1789. If anyone reading this email or if anyone in the USA reading the Constitution does not understand the meaning of “religious” or “religion,” a Webster’s Dictionary in the English language can be found in any public library within the United States.

    The Founding Fathers and the First Congress used words which mean exactly what they say and if anyone on this minor string of commentary or within the entire TFN network cannot read and understand the words which I am now typing, please, get out an English dictionary. I would hope I do not have to define the word “no” or the word “religion” to anyone reading this discussion. But, JDG, if I need to do so for you, just let me know.

    I must assume most of us reading this comment understand the words I am using, even without a dictionary. This debate is about understanding the words of Art. 6 and the First Amendment and, yes, I have written a book on the subject of about what the three religion commandments in the Constitution say and command. I have also read Church State and Freedom by Leo Pfeffer, The Establishment Clause by Leonard W. Levy, as well as Praise the Lord for Tax Exemption by Martin A. Larson, a personal friend, and I was on the staff of Americans United for Separation of Church and State with Glenn Archer who founded that organization. I did major in religion and history at the University and the Seminary, plus spend one year in law school learning how to do legal research. I started giving public lectures on the subject of religion and government over thirty-five years ago. I have challenged any scholar in the field of constitutional law to show me the word “church” in the Constitution. No one has done so.

    So, let me try one more time, JDG and TFN, Show me in which line of the Constitution the word “church” exists. It does not take an expert to understand my point or the challenge I present to this constitutional discussion. The word in the Constitution is “religion,” and the only meaning any student of English can give to “thereof” in the free exercise commandment is “religion,” the whole subject thereof, not just church. Anyone, including any attorney or Supreme Court Justice, who says otherwise is not an expert on the Constitution or of the English language. Therefore, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer is a book which everyone interested in the constitutional principle of “separation between Religion and Government,” James Madison, Father of the Constitution, William and Mary Quarterly, 3:555, should read, including math teacher David Barton, preacher Peter Marshall, and The Texas Freedom Network.

    Gene Garman, Baylor ’62, where I learned from experts.

  18. Does “checks and balances” appear in the Constitution? How about “freedom of religion?”

    Guess those are invalid concepts, since those exact phrases don’t appear in the text.

  19. Hey Gene, it turns out the words “church and state” ARE in the Constitution. It’s just that the letters aren’t all in a row.

  20. Gene Garman: Show me in which line of the Constitution the word “church” exists.

    You still seem to be obsessed with the particular words themselves, rather than the concepts associated — which concepts have both later and preceding related expressions elsewhere, using different words.

    I wonder if this is a habit of thought resulting from your Baylor education; the Literalist lens from Biblical Inerrancy, given another focus.

  21. The conviction that the United States was “Christian” in the sense that it was an assumption not effectively challenged until after JFK. Prior to that time any mainstream politican, either Democrat or Republican, used Biblical quotations in public speech and in the courts to justify or condemn. This presumption was mostly Protestant as it was only safe to use religious quotes from Catholic sources only in electoral districts safefly Catholic, as in Irish or Hispanice.

    The differences between the various brands of Protestantism changed as did the acceptance of the various deonominations in the precincts themselves. Any politician in the East knows which brank of Christiantity to play to.

    The acceptance of Judaism varied, the South being less prejdiced than the Northeast. Deed restrictions area good way to track the bias, at least in those deed restrictions prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Deed restrictions prior to that time, in Texas, still carry the proscriptions against Indians, Jews, and Blacks. This was also the case in Callifornia which deed restrictions prohibited Asians in certain parts (Orinda, Lefayette, and Walnut Creek that I know od).

    Classic examples of this presumption include the Church service held on HMS Prince of Wales on 10 August 1940 in commemoration of the meeting between FDR and Churchill in drafting the Atlantic Charter. There is a popular film clip of this as the delegates and the crews of the British and US Navy ships in attendance sang “Onward Christian Soldiers”. The Atlantic Charler was the basis of the Wartime political agenda of the Allies, and later the fundation of NATO.

    If one recalls MacArther’s famous ending to his speech to a Joint Session of Congress after his dismissal as Commander of the US Forces on the Rar East in which he said: “And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.

    William Jenning Bryan ran unsuccessfully for President and ran on the platform that leveraged Christian themes relentlessly and whose inspiration is very much his legacy. He also was the attorny for the State int he Scopes :Monkey Trial:. What you hear from the Rightous Right is more than just an echo, but typical of populist tradition in the midwest and Bible belt.

    The movie :The Good Shepherd” with Matt Damon playing establishment WASP and Robert Denior playing the role of “Wild Bill Donovan” founder of the OSS, and WW1 medal of Honor reciepient as commander of the “Figthing 69th (Irsh)” In one early scened DeNiro explains that the few he picked were Ivy League, a handful of Catholics (like himself), a few Jews, but no blacks”. Later in the film Matt Damon answers the question from a mob figure (Joe Pesci) about Damon’s cutlure afte citing the Black’s love of music, the Italians love of family was, “we have America, the rest of you are visitors.” This was DeNiro’s way to exclaoin the world as it was in the era of teh Forties and early Fifies.

    The fact that the US can no longer be called Christian in the same sense, that there are too many that no longer accept what was taken for granted is what is behind the furor and fury of the Righteous Right, While JFK’ s deatj is a marker of the change it was not the cause, that was the Sixties-Seventies revolt against the sraid and mass produced Fifties. Although I consider the Fifties was a fluke, all other decaces had theri high drama.

  22. Ben’s right you know. Cytocop will get a kick out of this. Because the constitution is a sacred document, it too was infused with the mysterious “Bible Code.” Let me show you the outworking of the secret code. Just look for the capital letters in the following excerpt from the U.S. Constitution:

    “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfeCt union, establisH JUstice, insuRe domestiC Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establisH this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    You see. The word CHURCH is in the constitution. You just have to know how to interpret the secret Bible code.

  23. “Gene Garman, Baylor ’62, where I learned from experts.”

    I don’t think experts would say what you are telling us. They would loose their PhD’s/jobs for being liars. I think you are just making this up. Wait…. I’m sure you’re making this up.

  24. There are a lot of words that can be formed out of that passage which by no stretch of the imagination are any kind of a code, Bible or not. The “F” word is plain as day.

  25. I think “liar” is a little harsh. Gene’s just a stickler. He supports separation of church and state, but it drives him nuts that we call it that.

    Right, Gene?

  26. I wonder what other miraculous messages are embedded in our founding documents. Let’s look at the first few words of the Declaration of Independence and see what “Bible Code” message has been left there to enrich Texas public school children.

    “When in the courSe of human events, it BecOmEes necessary FoR one people to Dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assUme among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to whIch the Laws of NaTure and of Nature’s God entitle them, a deCent respect to the opInions of mAnkind requirES.”

    Yep. Plain as day. The first few lines of the Declaration of Independence contain the sequential embedded wording:


    I rest my case.

  27. The Declaration of Independence is not the founding document of the United States of America and has no legal standing whatsoever in a court of law. A declaration of independence from Great Britain and King George, by the colonies, after which each of them became independent states, is not the same as a constitution which united the various independent states into a united nation as the United States of America. No attorney goes to court arguing from the words of the Declaration of Independence anymore than from the Mayflower Compact. In a court of law within the United States of America, it is the words of the Constitution which are supreme and have legal standing.

    David Barton, Peter Marshall, the Becket Fund, and the “religious right” would all have the Court and public believe that the Founding Fathers, the fifty-five men who personally participated in drafting the final wording of the supreme law of the land, see Webster’s, commanded only that no one religion would be established as the national church, such as the Anglicans were established and funded in Virginia. It was objection by the Baptists and others about the use of coerced tax money for the support of the Anglican clergy in Virginia which led to Virginia’s January 1, 1786, law, Statute of Religious Liberty, in which it was commanded “no man shall be compelled to support any worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

    If any of you have not read that 1786 Virginia law or James Madison’s 1785 “Memorial and Remonstrance against religious assessments,” which was widely read throughout Virginia immediately prior to passage of the Virginia law, they are both in my book, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer, and in books at public and university libraries nationwide.

    When the Founding Fathers, in 1787, drafted the Constitution, no one was more prominent in drafting its words in respect to religion than James Madison, who personally helped draft its words “no religious test shall ever be required,” and who two years later, in 1789, as a part of the six member joint senate-house conference committee, personally helped draft the wording of the First Amendment, which commands no law respecting an establishment of “religion,” not of a religion or of a church, as revisionists and theocrats would have us believe.

    Words do mean things, and the words in the Constitution are “religious” and “religion,” the entire subject, completely different in understanding than establishment of a church or a national church, etc., which is what the opponents of “separation between Religion and Government” would have us believe. The word “church” is not in the Constitution. So, the debate is about words, because words have meaning, and understanding their meaning is about what the debate is, as I was taught in speech class at Baylor, and, which is why, when arguing in court with the Becket Fund, for example, you had better gets the Constitution’s wording correct, or you will continue paying taxes for support of religion laws and churches and chaplains and parochial schools and wars of all kinds.

  28. Ben and Gene trying to have a conversation. It’s like matter and antimatter checking their watches frequently and nervously while waiting for a late train.

  29. Charles, you’re funny.

    Actually, I do understand all of Gene’s points. But I have to give him grief for being such a stickler. I was pretending not to understand his comment, even though he’s made the same comment about twenty times now. Go Gene!