TFN Intern: Getting Involved Has Its Rewards

mary-tuma1From science to sex education and issues like private school vouchers, religious freedom and civil liberties, the Texas Freedom Network is engaged on numerous fronts in defending mainstream values against the religious right in Texas. We are fortunate to have the help of a dedicated band of student interns to help us here at the office, at the Capitol and at the State Board of Education. In addition to our regular internships, TFN also sponsors a “Legislative Academy” every two years for students interested in learning more about public policy advocacy and the legislative process. This year we have six hard-working, dedicated interns in our Lege Academy program. We thought you might like to hear from one about her experiences, Mary Tuma. Mary is a senior fellow in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin:

Orwellian censorship of school textbooks had me hooked. It’s an odd thing to be drawn to, I suppose. But as a product of the Texas public education system, these were the textbooks I carried around laboriously in my backpack to be tested on the next day. These were the textbooks that taught me the foundations of science, history and social studies. These textbooks, to a degree, socialize us and construct our realities. So to think certain State Board of Education members and interest groups have tried to systematically undermine evolution, attempted to downplay slavery and the civil rights struggle and pushed to replace photos that broke gender role stereotypes was, to say the least, chilling.

But textbook censorship, I soon found out after reading TFN reports over the summer, was merely the tip of the ideological iceberg. Private school vouchers, vague Bible curriculum standards, the tax-dollar funded faith-based initiative…unfortunately, the list goes on. The question stopped being “How could this happen?” and soon transformed into “Well, what am I going to do about it?” A bit more research and a few conversations with politicians and religious scholars led me to realize some 28,000 people from myriad religious backgrounds rally behind Texas Freedom Network, pumping blood back into the heart of mainstream values. As a progressive Texan and one who values education, I knew this was a fight I had to be part of.

Victories like the most recent one involving a redaction of the proposed “strengths and weaknesses” language in science standards are by virtue testimony to the resounding opposition to unsound science and the religious right’s agenda. Furthermore, victories like this one remind us the hard work of dedicated individuals with a common cause does elicit change.

Yet state board Chairman Don McLeroy’s effort to challenge a core concept of evolution, common descent, is also proof that there is still much work to be done in the fight for a more mainstream education system. I am looking forward to doing my part as a Legislative Academy intern to help mobilize activists and promote reform in the Legislature. “Change comes from the bottom up, not the top down,” our new president has said.

Getting involved with a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to countering the religious right and advancing individual liberties is rewarding and fulfilling. Being surrounded by politically diverse students who are as passionate about these issues as I am motivates me and reaffirms the principles we stand true to.

After all, not doing your part to rectify hypocrisy would just be, well, goobledygook.

6 thoughts on “TFN Intern: Getting Involved Has Its Rewards

  1. Message for Mary Tuma

    Just in case you have not received one of these messages from anyone else so early in your career, I would like to be the first one to Christen you with the usual statement from the usual suspects. Here goes:

    “Mayree, you izzuh goin’ ta hayul!!!”

    Many years ago, I was a regular visitor to the Alabama Live!! religious forum. We had a young fundamentalist woman (Separate Baptist) who posted there regularly too. Aside from the usual fundie rigidity, she always knew who was going to hell. Just in case you do not know, the fundies believe that there is no dentist’s waiting room for the Last Judgement and then heaven or hell. They believe that upon death a person’s soul goes IMMEDIATELY to one place or the other. Although I have not investigated it theologically, I suppose that the human denizens of Hell later get let out of their misery for a brief time so they can go to court and get their final sentence, which is obviously already known to them.

    Anyway, the discussion with this fundie woman was always binary: 1) News report of a new death and 2) Her standard response:

    Reporter: “Frank Sinatra died today”

    Fundie Woman: “He is in Hell now.”

    Reporter: “Grandma Moses died today.”

    Fundie Woman: “She is in Hell now.”

    Reporter: ” Mother Theresa died today.”

    Fundie Woman: “She is in Hell now.”

    I always wondered how it is that the fundies know things that only God would really know—unless of course—they think that they are God—which is the very definition of original sin in Genesis 1. This why Jesus was so angry at the scribes and pharisees in the Bible. They had TAKEN OVER THE ROLE OF GOD HIMSELF and had used scripture as the basis for formulating their own moral code. Sound like anyone we know?

  2. Hi Mary,

    Do you think there is a problem with teaching both the recognized strengths and weaknesses of ALL theories taught in public school classrooms? Do you think theories can have weaknesses — that some theories are stronger than others? I would warn you to be wary of anti-religion extremists as many of the bloggers here at TFN tend to be. Their emphasis on hatred of religion and God, I feel, undermines their credibility in advocating what’s best for science and science education. I believe it would be best to support your position for science and education without making attacks against individuals or groups. I think that advice should be followed by all sides.

  3. ScienceBlinded,

    Instead of asking questions, why don’t you answer the one you dodged on an earlier thread?:

    Should the following scientific “theory” be discussed in school?:

    1. There is no god or gods; the theory of evolution is accurate.

    2. The earth (and everything else) was formed as a result of the Big Bang, billions of years ago.

    3. We don’t know how life originated, and we may never know.

    4. The only supernatural entity in existence is Satan. He didn’t create mankind, but he does have some limited powers than can be quite annoying. For instance, he has affected our thinking to make humans believe in thousands of different “gods” throughout history. He gives them funny names like Mordak, Zeus, and Yahweh, just because he thinks it’s humorous.

    5. Satan wrote the Bible as a means to torment mankind. He wants us to think there is a wonderful afterlife, but there isn’t. He got a real kick out of filling the Bible with stonings, genocide, slavery, incest, etc. He also wrote the Koran and some other religious texts just to stir up trouble.

    6. Satan planted the idea of intelligent design into some humans’ brains as a means to create havoc on earth. It appears to be working. Just look at the Discovery Institute. They are in the grip of Satan and don’t even realize it.

    7. Satan occasionally uses his limited powers to create “evidence” of intelligent design. For instance, he might make some organisms appear irreducibly complex. In other words, all of the “evidence’ for creationism or intelligent can just as well be considered evidence for this theory.

    8. There were a lot more fossils around that would have satisfied everybody, including creationists, as far as transitions, but Satan destroyed them.

  4. Mary.

    Our friend Science-Minded thinks that all sides should refrain from such religious criticisms because he and his side feels threatened. The so-called Religious Right in the United States spent 30 years on easy street. Why? They could say whatever they liked, do whatever they liked, and use scripture in whatever perverse way they liked—and depend upon the mainline Christian churches to be disinterested and sit silent. It even allow them the luxury of public relations lies where they could insinuate that they had a huge, monolithic position that ALL Christians supported.

    Those days are over now. The larger church and church people are going after them now—and with everything we have got. It is not a matter of hatred, as he implies, but rather one of disagreement and deep concern for us and our fellow man. If the Christian Neo-Fundamentalists had been contented to quietly believe what they believe and spread their understanding of the gospel in nonthreatening ways like all of the other churches, everything would have most likely been okay. After all, they have a right to whatver religious beliefs they wish to hold, and I dare say that many Americans would die supporting their basic rights to hold to those beliefs. However, they were not contented to “…do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Instead, they got pulled into the new dominion theology and became militants—militants bent on taking control of the government at the local, state, and federal levels and using the legal/police authority of that government to force every other citizen to believe as they do and act as they do—or else. In a few words, they have become as dangerous as any strident national socialist brown shirt or dogged communist roving the streets of Munich in 1929. The German church remained silent and was even complicit in the totalitarian evils that ensued. History shows this. In my view, the American mainline churches will not roll over and play dead here anymore. After all, we are Americans, and as the song says, “This dog bites when you rattle his cage.” In Matthew 23, Jesus laid the basic framework on how Christians should deal with the Christian-Neofundamentalists of today by how he dealt with the Christian-Neofundamentalists of his own day. Give it a good read Mary.

  5. “You know the difference between a Baptist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist!!!!”

    —Tony Campolo