Texas Social Studies Debate Moves Toward Vote

The Texas State Board of Education is in the midst of a heated debate over the state’s social studies curriculum, which the Religious Right is using to push “Christian nation” propaganda.

David Barton and the Rev. Peter Marshall, two well-known Religious Right activists, were selected by a right- wing faction on the board to sit on a six-member social studies curriculum review panel. Barton and Marshall, who promote “Christian nation” propaganda, have pushed the board to incorporate their version of American history in Texas classrooms. (See “Texas Tall Tale,” July-August 2009 Church & State.)

Sarah Weis, vice president of Americans United’s Austin Chapter, testified before the board on Jan. 13 to convey AU’s thoughts on the curriculum and to warn against Barton and Marshall’s agenda.

In addition, Weis asked the board to accurately portray the history of religious freedom in social studies classrooms.

“Our students’ history lessons must be accurate and acknowledge where religion did play a role, but also set forth a true account of when it did not,” Weis said. “Our schools must obey the command that government and schools not prefer one religion over another or promote religion over non-belief. If the role of religious beliefs is exaggerated in the [standards], schools run the risk of crossing that forbidden line.”

Other speakers made similar points, including former AU Legal Director Steve K. Green, now director of the Willamette University Center for Religion, Law and Democracy. Also testifying for a sound curriculum were a public school teacher, a representative from the National Council of Jewish Women and the director of educational services at the Texas State Historical Association.

The board will take a final vote on the curriculum in March.