Far Right Smears Clergy from Press Conference

by Dan Quinn

Wow. It didn’t take long for far-right pressure groups to start smearing clergy members who want the Texas State Board of Education to stop trying to undermine religious freedom in social studies classrooms. Just minutes after the Texas Faith Network’s Capitol press conference today, the far right’s lies started flying across the Internet.

Jonathan Saenz, a lawyer/lobbyist for Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of the far-right Focus on the Family, claimed that the Christian and Jewish clergy who spoke at the press conference “personally attack(ed) the Christian faith of some State Board of Education members.” Really, Jonathan? How? When? It should be no surprise that he didn’t offer a shred of evidence for such an absurd and reckless charge. (Folks shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for Saenz to apologize to those clergy men and women.)

Saenz also had the gall to question the truthfulness of clergy speakers who want social studies classes to teach the truth about how the Founders barred government from promoting one religion over all others:

“Their version of this concept [separation of religion and state] would have been rejected by the Founders.  The problem for them is, their amendment language says this is what the Founders believed.  Untrue and factually and historically inaccurate.”

Unfortunately for Saenz, real historians (not propagandists like David Barton) strongly disagree. Moreover, as speakers pointed out at the press conference, members of the clergy themselves in America’s early years lobbied for protections for religious freedom like church-state separation.

And Saenz also posted this ridiculous criticism of one speaker at the press conference: “One clergy member even slammed his hand down on the podium to make his point.”

He “slammed his hand down”? Well, that’s just shocking! We wonder why the Capitol security simply didn’t have the minister arrested and led off in shackles.

Of course, we wonder how Saenz could be so sure of what happened at the press conference since he kept walking out of the room. We can only assume he couldn’t be bothered to listen to what he later wanted to criticize.

Dave Welch of the far-right Texas Pastor Council is hardly any better. Welch didn’t even attend the press conference, but he issued a press release harshly criticizing the clergy speakers for spreading “misinformation” from “anti-Christian attack groups like Texas Freedom Network.”

Yes, that’s right — religious righters believe that anyone who doesn’t share their own narrow ideological perspective is somehow “anti-Christian.” (Never mind, we suppose, that two speakers at the press conference — a Baptist minister and a Methodist minister — sit on TFN’s board of directors.)

But could Welch have been bothered to do at least a little research to get his historical facts right? At the end of his press release, Welch offered this nugget to suggest that the Founders wanted government to promote religion:

“The Northwest Ordinance, passed in 1787 by the same Congress which presented the Bill of Rights for ratification, declared that ‘Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.’”

Actually, that’s not accurate. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was passed by the Congress seated under the Articles of Confederation. The first federal Congress under the Constitution sent the Bill of Rights to the states for ratification more than two years later. And the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights forbids government from promoting or disfavoring any one religion over all others in America. That’s a fact some state board members, Liberty Institute and Dave Welch simply don’t want students to learn in their social studies classrooms.

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