Partisan politics and a church/state punch-up in Texas
Partisan politics and America’s culture wars have been on full display again in Austin at the Texas State Board of Education. According to a Friday report in The Dallas Morning News, Republicans on the board defeated a Democratic-backed proposal on Thursday to would have required that Texas students be taught the reason behind a prohibition of a state religion in the Bill of Rights. You can see the report here by The Dallas Morning News which has done some fine stuff on this and related subjects.
The seven social conservatives on the panel were joined by three moderate Republicans in rejecting the proposal, which was backed by all five Democrats on the board.
The so-called “Establishment Clause” in the U.S. Bill of Rights — which states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — has become one of the many flashpoints in the country’s culture wars which outsiders often find bewildering. U.S. liberals and secular humanists have said this is the basis for America’s separation of church and state; for many religious conservatives, this is a dangerous fiction that has been advanced by activists judges. Battles over it have taken many shapes and have included those over school prayer.
The reaction of U.S. liberals and religious conservatives to such things, I have found, is as predictable as the sunrise and sunset. Sure enough, I got an e-mail Friday from the (liberal leaning and non-partisan) Texas Freedom Network with the following press release. It said among other things that:
“The board rejected a proposed standard requiring students 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.’ That means the board opposes teaching students about the most fundamental constitutional protection for religious freedom in America. ”
The board was expected to approve the first draft of its social studies standards on Friday and a final vote is slated for May. The standards adopted will remain in place for a decade and other states often follow the Austin lead because national textbook publishers seek to emulate them, given the size of the Texas market.
This is why commentators say that the partisan battles being waged here over topics that outsiders may find strange — the world’s richest country is concerned about what?! — really matter. They may set the tone for what millions of American students learn on subjects ranging from evolution to the history of U.S. foreign policy. It really is, in some ways, a battle for the country’s soul.