So what's with the dishonest campaign to remove from office a State Board of Education member who had the gall to challenge -- successfully -- the re-election of a prominent member of the state board's far-right faction in 2010? Just another example of the far right's contempt for Texas voters. We're talking about Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant who defeated Don "Somebody's Gotta Stand Up to Experts" McLeroy in last year's GOP primary for the District 9 state board seat. McLeroy, a College Station dentist and self-identified "young Earth creationist," had served as Gov. Rick Perry's state board chairman from 2007 to 2009 and led efforts to dumb down instruction on evolution in public school science classes. Ratliff's victory over McLeroy infuriated other far-right board members and their supporters. But because voters clearly preferred a common-sense approach to education over McLeroy's repeated efforts to promote his own personal beliefs in public schools, Ratliff's critics have adopted a legal strategy to get him thrown off the board. They claim Texas law forbids Ratliff from serving on the board because he is a registered lobbyist. But that prohibition applies only to lobbyists who are paid to work on business related to the board's operations. Ratliff has pointed out repeatedly that he does not. In January, to settle the matter, Ratliff asked then-Chairwoman Gail Lowe -- a member of the state board's far-right faction -- to seek an opinion from the Texas attorney general on his eligibility to serve on the board. Ratliff also asked the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney's Office to determine whether he was breaking the law. Last week Attorney General Greg Abbott's office released an official opinion on the matter. That followed a finding from the Public Integrity Unit last March. Neither document says what the board's far-right members wanted to hear. Read More

Just for sheer entertainment value, you almost gotta love fringe characters like Donna Garner. The right-wing, Waco-area gadfly bombards elected officials, journalists and assorted other folks across Texas with numerous, hair-on-fire email screeds on topics ranging from the State Board of Education (SBOE) to national politics. Unfortunately, some SBOE members have actually promoted her nonsense -- in fact, she worked with far-right board members who hijacked the language arts curriculum standards revision process for Texas public schools just three years ago. Now, we wouldn't be so uncharitable as to call Garner a kook. Perish the thought. But her conspiracy-themed, Glenn Beck-like emails often are pretty darn kooky. Two years ago, for example, she wanted SBOE members to promote creationist arguments in new science curriculum standards because serial killer "Jeffrey Dahmer believed in evolution." (She partly got her wish.) She also seems to play fast and loose with the truth, as demonstrated in a damning PolitiFact Texas piece last December. Anyway, in another bizarre email this week, Garner insists that President Obama is lying to Americans about being born in the United States. Her email went out just days after the president did what "birthers" like Garner have been screaming for him to do for more than two years: release the "long form" certificate of his birth. The document shows that Obama was, indeed, born in Hawaii. But Garner claims that forensic experts have exposed the president's birth certificate as a poorly crafted forgery: "In the coming days, I feel sure there will be more to this forgery story. So far as I am concerned, it looks mighty fishy when Obama has spent millions of dollars to scrub out his past and you and I as common, everyday Americans have to provide more information to an insurance company to get a policy than Obama has had to provide to become the President of the most powerful country in the world." She goes on to call Obama "our 'Manchurian President'" and says he "has sealed" his school and university records, medical records, "any baptism records," "his adoption records," and ... well, you get the point. For the record, new polls appear to show that the percentage of Americans who believe President Obama was born in a foreign country has plummeted -- so Garner finds herself in increasingly rare company. If the folks at Fox News are looking for a replacement for Glenn Beck in their entertainment lineup, maybe they should contact Garner. At the very least, she could easily work off the same kooky scripts. Here is Garner's full May 2 email: Read More

The fight among Texas Republicans over who should be speaker of the state House of Representatives is getting hotter. We suggested on Tuesday that over-the-top efforts by far-right pressure groups and their extremist supporters to replace Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, may well alienate other Republicans. That point was made clearer in a letter from a House Republican made public today by the Austin-based political website Quorum Report (subscription required). The letter from state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, is addressed to right-wing gadfly Donna "Jeffrey Dahmer Believed in Evolution" Garner. Garner, David Barton and groups like Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) have been demanding that Republicans replace Speaker Straus with a hardliner like state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, or Ken Paxton, R-McKinney. Some far-right activists have gone so far as to demand the election of a "Christian conservative" speaker over Straus (who is Jewish). And Garner's attacks have been particularly misleading. In fact, PolitiFact Texas recently rated one particular Garner claim as a "Pants on Fire" lie. Rep. Miller went after Garner's truth-twisting in his letter to her: Read More

TFN Insider has already reported about the religious campaign the far right has been waging against Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. Now PolitiFact offers a clear example of how the religious right is also spreading distortions and falsehoods in the effort to replace Straus with another speaker far more likely to obey their commands on radical social policies. PolitiFact notes today that Texas Eagle Forum has claimed that Straus "was co-author of a bill that would have allowed Planned Parenthood to control public school sex education." But after looking at the public record, PolitiFact rates that claim as a "Pants on Fire" lie. Read More

The header above is from the subject line of a wild-eyed screed sent circulating around the Internets this past weekend by Donna Garner, a former language arts teacher in Central Texas. Social conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education seem to think Ms. Garner is some kind of curriculum guru. (Never mind that most other folks see her as little more than a right-wing gadfly with an e-mail list.)

Last year Ms. Garner helped the board’s far-right faction (led by board chairman Don McLeroy) derail a more than two-year process revising the state’s language arts curriculum standards. (See here and here.) Now she seems to have turned her attention to evolution and proposed science curriculum standards. The e-mail criticizes the state board for giving tentative approval last month to new standards that don’t require students to learn phony “weaknesses” of evolution. It mocks three Republican board members, in particular, each of whom voted to keep the “weaknesses” requirement out of the standards. They “all claim to be conservative Republicans,” the e-mail sneeringly states. One of the three, Bob Craig of Lubbock, the e-mail notes, “says he’s a ‘strong Christian.'” And on it goes. (Will any… Read More

Americans United

Dan Quinn of @TFN shares how religion can be discussed objectively during classroom instruction, but students in public schools shouldn’t fear they will be preached to #CC20 #CreatingChange…