By David Waters
The Texas Board of Education is considering today a number of final revisions to its new social studies curriculum, a controversial months-long process that has drawn more scrutiny than most textbooks ever do.
The Texas Freedom Network is live-blogging this week’s procedings, which should culiminate in a final vote Friday. In March, board members voted 10-5 to amend textbook standards to correct what conservative board members view as hostility toward Christianity and traditional values.
Outgoing board member Don McElroy, a dentist whose pro-Christian revisions have drawn much criticism, now wants to require students to “contrast the Founding Fathers’ original intent related to the wording of the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clauses to the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ — which of course is not in the Constitution. McLeroy wrote that he’s trying to “stimulate critical thinking as to the actual wording in the First Amendment.”
But critics say McElroy and his fellow conservatives are trying to inject their own evangelical worldviews into the curriculum. They note that in March, the board’s 10 Republicans rejected a standard requiring students to learn that the nation’s Founders “protected religious freedom by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.”
They also note that board member Cynthia Dunbar, a graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School, argued that the Founding Fathers didn’t intend to separate church and state, but rather did intend to promote religion. The board approved her revisions, which included cutting Thomas Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence and promoter of the phrase “wall of separation between church and state”), and replacing him with religious figures such as St.Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.
Last week, two Baptist ministers held a press conference to criticize the board’s pro-Christian revisions. “Our Founding Fathers understood that the best way to protect religious liberty in America is to keep government out of matters of faith,” Roger Paynter, pastor of Austin’s First Baptist Church, said.
“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.”
At Wednesday’s hearings, Rod Paige, education secretary in the Bush administration, urged the board to delay its final vote and reconsider some of its revisions. “We have allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our curriculum in Texas. It has swung from liberal to conservative,” he told the board.