Religion & Public Schools In the Lone Star State
January 20, 2013 9:21 AM   Subscribe

The Texas Freedom Network reports [pdf] on some of the repercussions of the Texas state legislature's House Bill 1287, which allows for an expansion of the role of religion in the Texas public school curriculum.
posted by Rykey (38 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related...
posted by Huck500 at 9:29 AM on January 20, 2013


Also related. Also awesome. [io9]
posted by Fizz at 9:31 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


News from Texas uniformly depresses me.
posted by mazola at 9:41 AM on January 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I certify that H.B. No. 1287 was passed by the House on May 9, 2007, by the following vote: Yeas 139, Nays 1, 3 present, not voting.
80th Texas Legislature - House of Representatives
Republican Party 81
Democratic Party 69
I certify that H.B. No. 1287 was passed by the Senate on May 23, 2007, by the following vote: Yeas 28, Nays 2.
80th Texas Legislature - Senate
Republican Party 20
Democratic Party 11
I wonder how much longer this can last given how Texas has been importing liberals for the last decade for their high tech industries. Austin is already the bluest city in Texas, Dallas is not far behind it while both Bexar and Harris counties (most of San Antonio and Houston respectively) both tipped over blue. This is presidental as well where D doesn't mean "devoted but not quite wingnut Christian" like state TX politics.
posted by Talez at 9:49 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


News from Texas uniformly depresses me.

Fixed.
posted by Fizz at 9:51 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


But that's not what I meant!
posted by mazola at 9:56 AM on January 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


...given how Texas has been importing liberals for the last decade for their high tech industries.

I'd quibble a bit about the implied high-tech=liberal equation. My last office job was at a software developer, and the boys on the dev floor were some of the most unapologetic blood-red ditto-heads I've ever had to share cubicles with.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:58 AM on January 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Large numbers of liberals don't make a difference if the districts are gerrymandered all to hell.
posted by mokin at 10:02 AM on January 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Okay, I don't have the patience to go through that PDF in detail, since it seems to be a product of a special interest group that advocates religion in schools. But did I understand that report correctly? It seems like they are complaining that the bible courses in schools aren't good enough because they don't have enough religion.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:09 AM on January 20, 2013


Nope, quite the opposite:

Based in Austin, the Texas Freedom Network acts as the state’s watchdog, monitoring far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders. The organization has been instrumental in defeating initiatives backed by the religious right in Texas, including private school vouchers and textbook censorship at the Texas State Board of Education.
posted by Rykey at 10:13 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, I don't have the patience to go through that PDF in detail, since it seems to be a product of a special interest group that advocates religion in schools. But did I understand that report correctly? It seems like they are complaining that the bible courses in schools aren't good enough because they don't have enough religion.

No, you read it wrong.

"Founded in 1995, the Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of more than 50,000 religious and community leaders. Based in Austin, the Texas Freedom Network acts as the state’s watchdog, monitoring far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders. The organization has been instrumental in defeating initiatives backed by the religious right in Texas, including private school vouchers and textbook censorship at the Texas State Board of Education."
posted by mobunited at 10:14 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's an overview from a Midland, TX newspaper.

I guess the good news is that the report is calling for reform in religious studies to be more broadly fair.

It's the current state of instruction that's depressing.
posted by mazola at 10:16 AM on January 20, 2013


Well, the Democratic Party doesn't even try in a lot of our districts. I live in blue Austin but in the election we just had, there were a ton of choices that were basically a Republican running unopposed or the Republican versus the Libertarian without even a choice of a Democratic candidate. So even in "liberal" Texas, it's still pretty conservative.

As for the high-tech industries, maybe the creatives are more liberal but a lot of the programmers and engineers and developers I know are more hardcore Randroid libertarian than liberal.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:21 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I appreciate the counterpoint but I think I'll stick with my interpretation, that this is a special interest group that advocates teaching religion in the schools.

Public School Bible Courses

When taught with credible materials and from a nonsectarian perspective, Bible courses are an appropriate and even laudable way to help students learn about history and literature...

Religious Expression in Public Schools

The Texas Freedom Network affirms the right of every child to pray voluntarily in public school and the right of students to practice their own faith, free from government-sponsored prayer..


I suppose that in Texas, this is considered a far-left organization. But to me, this looks like a right wing organization that accepts the basic principle of allowing religion in schools, which many liberals do not accept. I don't.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:28 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The bible, for good or bad, is an important historical document as such certainly can be part of a history or literature course in public school. It could also be part of a world religions course, if it were actually taught as a survey course of world religions, and not a cover for a bible studies course.
posted by COD at 10:31 AM on January 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


But to me, this looks like a right wing organization that accepts the basic principle of allowing religion in schools, which many liberals do not accept. I don't.

I'm confused - are you saying courses about religions (e.g. their history, literature, etc.) should not be taught in public schools? And/or that kids should not be allowed to shut their eyes and fold their hands before they start taking a test?
posted by rtha at 10:38 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


But to me, this looks like a right wing organization that accepts the basic principle of allowing religion in schools, which many liberals do not accept. I don't.

TFN is not right wing. The report discusses how Texas schools teach religion in ways that promote religious views (which is unconstitutional) in contrast to how religion can be taught about in an academic, non-promotional manner (which is constitutional whether you agree that schools should be teaching about religion or not).
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:43 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christ, what a bunch of Legislative Assholes. It is amazing that they can get away with this.

Charlie don't surf - I would guess I am as against religion in schools as you - there should be zero, but the kids have a constitutional right to religious freedom, and as such, can pray in schools. What the TFN wants is religion taught properly, comparatively, from a nonsectarian perspective, rather than the right-wing conservative-creationist rubbish being taught now. Sorry to say this mate, but it is going to have to be a case of baby-steps on this one, we won't win the fight in one go.

Further, the King James Bible is fantastic as a peice of literature - Genesis is particularly excellent. The TFN wants it taught properly, impartially.
posted by marienbad at 10:45 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Texas Freedom Network affirms the right of every child to pray voluntarily in public school and the right of students to practice their own faith, free from government-sponsored prayer..

I agree with this sentiment 100%. No one should be allowed to tell a kid that he doesn't have the right to pray to whichever deity he wants--or not to pray at all. Government-sponsored prayer is the problem in that it is inevitably a prayer to the Christian God.
posted by leftcoastbob at 10:53 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Religious freedom" is an oxymoron.

And while the King James Bible IS a great piece of literature and a historical document, so are the Illiad and the Odyssey (and there's more evidence of the historical existence of Troy than Jesus).

The TFN is working to shift the "Overton Window" in Texas, but even if they are totally successful, the Window will still be on a side of the metaphorical building that gets little direct sunlight.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 10:54 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Texas Freedom Network affirms the right of every child to pray voluntarily in public school and the right of students to practice their own faith, free from government-sponsored prayer.

I'm an atheist and this sums up my own feelings about prayer in school pretty well. Despite the blathering of right-wingers with persecution complexes, you'd be hard pressed to find an organization that is in favor of banning prayer and expressions of faith by students. Thank goodness.

Also, "The Bible as Literature" was one of the best classes I've ever taken.
posted by brundlefly at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The new law stipulates that the Bible be taught from a non-sectarian point of view, and specifically prohibits proselytizing, devotinal content, or religious advocacy. Old Testament in one semester, new Testament in another. The instructor must be certified to meet the requirements of 21.459, guidelines on how to teach religion as a a topic, rather than, um, a religion. And they are free to use any translation of the Bible they choose.

This particular can of worms has a whole lot of positive potential. It's restricted to 9th graders and above, and is an elective. I once took instruction from a learned neighbor on some Old Testament books. He was an excellent historian, and offhand, could inform me of the impact of a shekel on a pastoral tribe, or a merchant in the Middle East at the time of the Pharoahs. Or however that worked. He's the one who told me that they didn't have commercial "Inns" in those days, and what options were open for caravaners or other travellers when they came into an area looking for a place to stay for a few days, how it was customary for the leader of a tribe of pastoral nomads to send an envoy to the local king sueing for permission to encamp in the area near the city. Stuff like that.

I'm certain that teachers of the Hebrew Bible will be well-versed in the history of the area from about 3000 BCE up to and including the present, so that they may inform the students about the secular impact of the Hebrew religion on the rest of the world, rather than dwelling on the three-mile cube we'll all live in after the Apacolyptic chariots of fire come swooping down to burn non-believers alive before their souls are caste into (either) oblivion (or) everlasting torment, out of the sight of the loving God....um. Wait. Where did it say to draw the line?

What could go wrong?
posted by mule98J at 11:11 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Go Texas Freedom Network, but I don't think reading their reports would improve my day.
posted by dry white toast at 11:34 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am very well acquainted with the man who run the elective Bible courses at one of the larger school districts in Texas. He is a minister in the small denomination where I used to preach, and I took some of my first Bible classes from his older brother--we've sat across the table from each other dozens and dozens of times. At least three times we've talked about how the Bible courses he coordinates are structured. On one hand, from what I can tell he is very scrupulous about following the constitutional strictures for such a course, and he is genuinely ecumenical in spirit. You'll never catch him leading a prayer in class or encouraging religious observances. He has co-teachers and guest lecturers from a wide variety of denominations. He really wants to do this the right way. BUT--

1) There is no escaping the reality that he is a minister and everyone knows he is a minister. He is very, very visible in the community as a whole. So even if he never slips and says that the Bible is a divine message from God and Jesus was God's son, everyone knows that he believes that, which almost inevitably amounts to a subtle but definite push toward religious belief.

2) His ecumenism extends all across Christendom, even to Catholic clergy and liberal denominations that others from his conservative background would never associate with. But it's still markedly Christian. I think his understanding of non-sectarian likely means "not endorsing any particular Christian denomination or theology" while still being pretty clearly Christian and trending conservative.

3) If you are teaching small units about the Bible as part of other classes (and I really hardly see how you couldn't, if you are going to give students a decent background in Western Civ) it would be fairly simple to say "here were Luther's major concerns, and here is the Catholic response in the counter-Reformation" without taking sides or even implying that either group was necessarily right. Likewise, cataloging Biblical allusions in major literary works doesn't involve much interpretation. There's really quite a bit that you could easily do without delving into interpretation. But I am having a really hard time imaging how you teach a course that focuses exclusively on the Bible for one or two semesters without addressing the question of historicity. Students will be asking. You either awkwardly duck the question over and over, or you--by necessity-- present multiple opinions. It could be fairly done by presenting a very secular view, an evangelical view, and some liberal view, but that's time consuming and also getting into some pretty deep wading for your average HS student. Not to mention the politics of even mentioning that there are Bible experts who do not hold it as sacred literature--highly problematic in West Texas and rural districts. I'm not saying it couldn't be done, but the reality of the situation is that most students are going to be in those elective classes out of devotional interest, and most of the teachers that I know about are religiously devout, if not clergy. So you have the weird situation of 25 people in a room who all worship Jesus and all know they worship Jesus who aren't supposed to mention the fact that they all believe this is something much more than an influential historical anthology to them.

Honestly, I think this whole thing is tricky territory. The easiest thing would be to say "get your Bible education at your church," but I certainly understand the impulse to say "this literature is enormously influential in our society, and we should offer courses in it to students who want it." But as there aren't just tons of agnostic people who are equipped to and interested in teaching the Bible, it gets dicey in a hurry.

And, the reality of the situation is that most of the teachers and the vast majority of the students are happy to have some subtle-or-not evangelical opinions mixed into their Bible lectures. That doesn't make it okay or legal, but you are swimming against a strong tide to get that changed.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:51 AM on January 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


A generation from now, if trends hold, many of our legislators will be agnostic/atheists, and we can put an end to this bull.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:16 PM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


1) There is no escaping the reality that he is a minister and everyone knows he is a minister. He is very, very visible in the community as a whole. So even if he never slips and says that the Bible is a divine message from God and Jesus was God's son, everyone knows that he believes that, which almost inevitably amounts to a subtle but definite push toward religious belief.

Here is a good place to draw the line. Is the minister paid to teach the class? Would he teach the class for free as a religious duty? If he could not be paid, would the religious community pay for him to teach the class? Does he also teach religious subjects in other environments, such as a church?

It is absolutely clear to me that there is no lack of resources available to anyone who wants to study religion. Even if the instruction was free, that would be even more problematic, since that would clearly mean it is proselytizing and it takes time away from classroom time that could be spent on more practical subjects.

If you want to put your kids in a religious school, you should have that right, but that does not entitle you to put religious schooling into public schools. Teaching any religion in public school as a classroom subject is inherently exclusive. Religion is inherently exclusive. Let me give you an example.

I once attended an inter-faith organization that asserted it was non-denominational and had representatives from "all" the religions. They recently reached out to a local mosque and had a Muslim representative for the first time. This representative gave a lecture about how all the world's religions had a common origin, and that their scriptures covered the same historic events, up to a point. The other ministers all had a discussion where they all commended themselves for being so broad minded as to accept a Muslim representative into the organization despite her obviously heretical and incorrect views about Christianity. My Quaker friend who invited me to the meeting, introduced me to some people after the meeting, obviously enjoying herself by introducing me as a buddhist. I recall one minister actually gasping in surprise. Perhaps he thought buddhists were all Asian in orange robes, rather than a Caucasian that dressed like him. He asked me what my views were on god, I said that buddhists were technically atheists, and my sect has many gods that are merely symbols of ethical and moral concepts. He looked at me like I puked on his shoes.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:22 PM on January 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


The bible, for good or bad, is an important historical document as such certainly can be part of a history or literature course in public school. It could also be part of a world religions course, if it were actually taught as a survey course of world religions, and not a cover for a bible studies course.

And let's face it: having bible studies and prayer in public school curricula is the end game. It's all about religious extremists chipping away at the Constitution and hijacking children's education, piece by piece.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:33 PM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


You are not educated if you don’t know the Bible.
-Christopher Hitchens

A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian.
-Richard Dawkins
posted by ILuvMath at 12:47 PM on January 20, 2013


It's all about religious extremists chipping away at the Constitution and hijacking children's education, piece by piece.

And yet, a survey of major religions and a few minor ones would be perfectly appropriate in high school, if presented in a secular setting, by those who were neither rabid theocrats nor paranoid secularists. I was in high school when it occured to me that religions might be flawed. My inclination was to think of the Bible as a sort of fairy tale. Years passed before I bothered to read it, and become perfectly impressed with the KJV as literature. Other version of the Bible are interesting, but not usually as compelling.

The trick is to get good teachers, and let them teach good students in an atmosphere of intellectual curiosity, where freedom of speech and thought is a hallmark of cultural enlightenment. Some mythical land far, far away.
posted by mule98J at 12:57 PM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not to mention the politics of even mentioning that there are Bible experts who do not hold it as sacred literature

I understand disagreeing with people who hold opinions different from your own. Learn about a point of view, consider it, reject it. Fine. But if you cannot even stand learning that other points of view exist then you have no place in the modern world. You're not a serious enough thinker to form opinions that anyone should care about, and you deserve nothing but mockery. How could anyone take the beliefs, religious or otherwise, of such a person seriously? And yes, that includes even teenagers, who are old enough to live lives of more careful reflection.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:28 PM on January 20, 2013


You're not a serious enough thinker to form opinions that anyone should care about, and you deserve nothing but mockery.

Maybe this is my umpteen years of Bible classes speaking, but I don't believe there's any such thing as a person who deserves nothing but mockery.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:36 PM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


You are not educated if you don’t know the Bible.
-Christopher Hitchens


You're not classically educated if you don't know the bible, or Ancient Greek and Latin. Hitchens says that without the bible, you can't understand Shakespeare or Milton. This is his standard of education: his own. With Hitchens, it's just egotism, but for most, that is a sign of intolerance of any opinion other than one's own.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:13 PM on January 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


charlie don't think educated people should be familiar with a document fundamentally important to our culture.

your comment is just a string of fallacies, dude.
posted by victory_laser at 6:27 PM on January 20, 2013


The Texas Freedom Network affirms the right of every child to pray voluntarily in public school and the right of students to practice their own faith, free from government-sponsored prayer..

My problem with this statement is that it doesn't affirm freedom from religion.
posted by swerve at 6:44 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're not educated unless you know differential calculus.

You're not educated unless you know the Bhagavad Hits.

You're not educated unless you know the Silmarillion.

That works for a lot of things!
posted by miyabo at 8:41 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're not educated until you can understand that someone can be educated without knowing the bible.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:59 PM on January 20, 2013


From the report:
Many courses teach students to interpret the Bible and even Judaism through a distinctly Christian lens. Anti-Jewish bias -- sometimes intentional but often not -- is not uncommon.

Yes, this is exactly what we need in Texas.

*weeps*
posted by blurker at 10:01 PM on January 20, 2013


charlie don't think educated people should be familiar with a document fundamentally important to our culture.

So they can know how much they piss over the Law of Moses when they suck down yet another bacon cheeseburger? Please tell me more about how America is a bastion of ethics exclusive only to Judeo-Christians.
posted by Talez at 11:18 PM on January 20, 2013


« Older For a stamp celebrating the 150th anniversary of t...  |  A Cat’s 200-Mile Trek Home Lea... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments