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 unconstitutional Bible class. Just this year, however, the Ector County Independent School District in Odessa (West Texas) settled a lawsuit by agreeing to adopt a brand new curriculum for its public school Bible classes. The district had been using materials from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. A TFN Education Fund report in 2005 revealed that the National Council’s curriculum was riddled with errors, was heavily plagiarized and was blatantly sectarian — promoting fundamentalist Protestant Christian views of the Bible over all others. In fact, another TFN Education Fund report in 2006 showed that about a dozen Texas school districts already offering Bible classes used the same deeply flawed curriculum. They also based their classes on essentially the same general standards just adopted for use statewide.
Mercer claims that “liberal extremists” like TFN would sue regardless of the curriculum schools use in Bible classes. Yet TFN has no litigation arm and has, in fact, tried to help school districts across the state develop courses that are academically and legally appropriate. We would rather tax dollars be spent on educating Texas kids, not defending unconstitutional classes that violate the religious freedom of those students and their families.