Conservatives on the Texas Board of Education pushed through controversial new education standards that will impact what school children across the nation learn about history and economics.
The board's decision replaced Thomas Jefferson with religious leaders and chose not to include the First Amendment's guarantee of no establishment of religion.
Baptists and others have criticized several of the decisions made on March 12 by the board, including the decision to replace Thomas Jefferson with religious leaders, and the decision not to include the First Amendment's guarantee of no establishment of religion.
Last year, members of the board chose two conservative Christian leaders to serve as "expert" reviewers to provide suggestions to guide the process of writing new standards for social studies textbooks. Although neither David Barton nor Peter Marshall is a trained historian, they laid the foundation for many of the changes the board has now implemented. Barton, the leader of WallBuilders, has even previously admitted to using unverifiable quotations in attempts to support his interpretation of U.S. history.
One of the more controversial votes taken last Friday was the decision to remove Thomas Jefferson from the list of influential political philosophers and add Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. The motion was made by board member Cynthia Dunbar, a graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University School of Law, author of a book titled "One Nation Under God: How the Left is Trying to Erase What Made Us Great" and a visiting law professor at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University School of Law.
Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and president of the Norman chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, disagreed with the board's decision "to banish Thomas Jefferson."
"Obviously, the Republican members of the Texas Board of Education have little appreciation for the political and intellectual achievements of Thomas Jefferson," Prescott wrote. "Their ideology clearly has more affinity with the Roman and Genevan theocracies that were championed by Aquinas and Calvin than for the American political union separating church and state that Jefferson championed."
On a similar vote, the Republican members defeated a motion to add a standard to "examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others."
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The amendment failed on a 10-5 party-line vote. Supporters of the failed standard said the principle is part of the First Amendment and thus essential to civics education.
With seven conservative Christians often being joined by the three other Republicans, the five Democrats on the board won few victories. In fact, some of the Democrats left during the middle of last week's meeting to protest some of the decisions made by the Republican majority.
Earlier this month, one of the key members of the conservative Christian voting bloc, Don McLeroy, lost his bid for another term. He was defeated in the Republican primary in large part because of the controversies surrounding textbook standards. Dunbar, another leader of the group, is not seeking re-election.
However, their terms continue until January and therefore the election result had virtually no impact on the current debate over social studies standards.
Other changes the board made to the education standards included:
- Removing Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero from the list of political resistance leaders to study;
- Replacing the terms "capitalist" and "free market" with "free enterprise;"
- Adding economist Friedrich von Hayek to the list of economists to study even though he is not among the most influential economists;
- Adding a requirement that the right to bear arms be included in a standard about "the importance of the expression of different points of view in a democratic republic."
Prior to tackling social studies standards, conservative Christians on the Texas Board of Education created controversy with efforts to change the science standards on issues of evolution and creationism.
Due to Texas's size, textbooks designed to meet its standards are often used in other states as well.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.