May 21, 2010

Today, the Texas State Board of Education officially passed new social studies education standards, which include many politically-motivated changes that have sparked controversy over the past few months of debate (for background, read this article). Some improvements were made over the past few days as the Board members corrected some of the controversial changes. However, other new ones were added, like one asking students to "compare and contrast ... the phrase 'separation of church and state'" with the religious liberty efforts of "the Founding Fathers." The wording is meant to suggest that the concepts are different even though it was Thomas Jefferson, one of those "Founding Fathers," who wrote the phrase "separation of church and state." Recently, several pastors in Texas held a rally at the Texas Capitol to protest the changes. Larry Bethune, pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin, argued:

We don't want to be the laughing stock of the nation and certainly don't want our children to be taught a very narrow religious agenda. We think it's very important that Texas children understand religious liberty and its place as the First Amendment of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
And Roger Paynter, pastor of Austin's First Baptist Church, stated:
Our Founding Fathers understood that the best way to protect religious liberty in America is to keep government out of matters of faith. ... 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.
Others from several denominations also spoke out. Although the voters recently defeated some of the Board members leading the changes, it was not in time to impact the process. Unfortunately, new textbooks that will be used in several states will be written according to these standards.