Americans United Honors Texas Educator With Religious Freedom Award

A Texas science educator who lost her job after she sent colleagues information about a lecture promoting the teaching of evolution received an award from Americans United recently.

Christina Castillo Comer was forced out of her job as the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) director of science for the curriculum division in October of 2007 after she forwarded an e-mail to science teachers in the state advising them about an upcoming speech by Barbara Forrest.

Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, is a prominent critic of “intelligent design” creationism. Comer said she believed science teachers might appreciate the opportunity to hear Forrest, a nationally recognized expert and author, speak on an issue that is relevant to their jobs.

TEA officials believed differently and accused Comer of violating a policy requiring neutrality on the teaching of creationism. Comer was ordered to send an e-mail stating that her previous message did not reflect agency policy, which she did. She was still forced to resign. (See “Lone Star Wars,” December 2008 Church & State.)

Forrest, who serves on Americans United’s Board of Trustees, did not know Comer before the flap. The two are now friends and share the cause of promoting sound science in public school classrooms.

Introducing Comer, Forrest remarked, “When I found out it was my talk that had prompted this, you can imagine how I felt. I usually meet people under very favorable circumstances, but unfortunately, this was how I came to meet Christina Castillo Comer. I’m going to tell you that although I met her under a most unfortunate circumstance, I have rarely enjoyed meeting anybody as much as I’ve enjoyed meeting her.”

Comer, who has 27 years of classroom experience teaching science, was presented with a copy of a resolution passed by AU’s Board of Trustees that “recognizes and thanks her for her service to the schoolchildren of Texas and for her courage in defining the teaching of science in the nation’s public schools.”

Comer also received Americans United’s Religious Liberty Award. The plaque honored her for her “steadfast commitment to religious freedom, sound science and public education.”

Saying she was “very touched and very honored” by the award, Comer told the crowd at the Nov. 9 event that they must remain diligent. She criticized Texas officials for insisting that public school teachers remain neutral on creationism.

“We are in the fight of our lives in science education in the state of Texas,” Comer said, “and, as you know, what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas.”

Added Comer, “I thank you so much for everything you do. People like you are the ones who make it possible for science teachers across the United States to prepare our students for the 21st century, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Attendees at the event also heard from Kathy Miller, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN). TFN is a statewide organization that monitors the Religious Right and promotes the separation of church and state.

Miller told the crowd about TFN’s efforts to defend sound science education and comprehensive sex education in public schools.