A hallmark of America's Constitution is the First Amendment and corresponding legal concept of the separation of church and state. Because of these principles, the citizens of the United States have enjoyed tremendous religious freedom. Many of us have watched in horror as the Texas State Board of Education voted, among other things, to change the social studies curriculum to minimize the importance of the wall of separation. As reported earlier, some of the school board members believe that the United States is a "Christian nation" and feel that while government cannot influence religion, religion can and should influence government and public policy. The religion they promote is a fundamentalist type of Christianity.
At God Discussion, we believe that all people should be free to believe or not believe, and not be judged for the conclusions they reach. We strongly oppose the notion that a particular religious group should force its views on people who do not adhere to its dogma. A person's spirituality or understanding is his or her own private affair.
This issue is important because the textbooks published by the State of Texas could very well be the standard study aids purchased by schools in about two dozen other states. That means that children throughout the nation might be taught that the separation of church and state is liberal bias that is "not in the Constitution." The publishers say that with printing technology these days, they can easily customize textbooks. Nonetheless, many of us are concerned about the future of social studies in America. In fact, a legislator in California introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of the Texas curriculum in California schools.
We don't have to sit by helplessly and watch the freedoms that have made America's faith-based and secular communities flourish. And in this special edition of the God Discussion show, we're going to talk with some of the movers and shakers in our society who offer information and tools that will empower you, as a parent, as a voter, as a rational thinker.
Here's the lineup of guests (Note – In appearing on the show, none of the guests or their organizations necessarily support or endorse the views expressed by the other guests and their organizations):
Ellen Johnson, Executive Director of EnlightenTheVote.com.
2010 is going to be a big election year that could shift the tide to Congressional advocates of a "Christian nation." Women, gays, progressive religions and even members of the military could be affected by decisions made by a government filled with people who believe the United States is a Christian nation whose legal foundation rests on the Bible. At EnlightenTheVote, we can contribute information about various candidates and learn where the various candidates stand.
Enlighten the Vote is the brainchild of Ellen Johnson.
Ellen is the past president of American Atheists. She has twice testified before the United State Commission on Civil Rights. In 2002 she organized the Godless Americans March On Washington and she was the organizer of the November 11, 2005 "Atheists In Foxholes" March On Washington. In 2003 she established the Godless Americans Political Action Committee, now called EnlightenTheVote.com and serves as its Executive Director.
In 1998, she met with the Office of Public Liaison for the Clinton White House to discuss the subject of giving Atheists a "place at the table" in the discussion of issues of concern to our nation's Atheists.
She is also a frequent guest on national radio and TV shows including the Fox Network's "Hannity & Colmes," "The O'Reilly Factor," "Larry King Live," " The CBS Early Show, Glen Beck on Headline News, CBS Sunday Morning, a Barbara Walters Special and C-SPAN's prestigious public affairs program "Washington Journal."
Ms. Johnson is an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist International, and an Honorary Board Member of "Scouting For All," a nationwide group that seeks to end discrimination against Atheists and gays within the Boy Scouts of America.
In May of 2008, Ms. Johnson and Ken Loukinen completed the thwarted 1963 Freedom Walk of Atheist Bill Moore, who attempted to carry a letter of racial harmony from Tennessee to the Governor of Mississippi and was murdered two days into his walk. That same year over 700 people were arrested attempting to finish the famous walk. Ellen and Ken walked the letter from Attalla, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi and finished Bill Moore's walk.
Joe Zamecki, Texans for Truthful Textbooks.
Joe Zamecki is the Texas State Director of American Atheists and has been a periodic guest on the God Discussion show to talk about the Atheists Helping the Homeless Program that he and his group actively work on in Austin. His program has helped countless homeless people receive toiletries and personal care items so that they could adequately groom themselves for job interviews. Food has also been given away at the Atheists Helping the Homeless events.
A recent poll showed that the majority of Texans believe that teachers and scholars, not elected school board members, should determine the curriculum. Specifically, 78 percent of parents felt this way. 68 percent of the respondents believe that separation of church and state is a core principle of the Constitution . . . including 59 percent of self-identified Republican respondents.
We'll check in with Joe about the atmosphere at the rally and some of the next steps that Texans concerned about separation of church and state may take.
The Progressive Clergy's Take.
It is not just secular people who disagree with the School Board's decision to reject a proposed requirement that students learn why the nation's founders banned government from promoting one religion over others. Members of the clergy and various churches feel that the changes were wrong. In the final vote, the Board directed the following language to be added to the standards:
“Examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed it free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase ‘separation of church and state’.”
We are waiting final confirmation to have the Interfaith Alliance's view on these changes and the petition to publishers that is available on their site.
Also from a faith-based perspective is Richard Kent Matthews, a New Thought Minister based in Portland, Oregon, who has contributed insightful articles to God Discussion. An "ex holy roller," professional speaker, singer and writer, Richard "has a bi-partisan altar set up to Buddha, Jesus, Mary, Krishna, Ho Tei, Kwan Yin, and a bronze pitcher representing Islam."
Christian Dominionism at Work.
As we've been reporting over the past few months, radical changes in understanding religious freedom in the United States are the product of a movement loosely known as "Christian Dominionism." This extreme, but well-organized and well-funded group seeks to "take dominion" over "7 Mountains" of culture, including education.
Setting the tone of the Board's vote on curriculum changes on May 21 was an opening prayer offered by lawyer and author, Cynthia Dunbar, who declared in the prayer that the United States was a Christian nation governed by Christian principles. In her book, One Nation Under God: How the Left Is Trying to Erase What Made Us Great, Dunbar, a member of the Texas State Board of Education whose views may affect what your children learn, claims:
Christians should “occupy” all nations. President-elect Barack Obama’s pro-choice stance on abortion is the same sort of “fascist, supremacist attitude exhibited by Mussolini and Hitler.” Public education is tyrannical, unconstitutional and the Satan-following Left’s “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” And parents who surrender their children to government-run schools are “throwing them into the enemy’s flames even as the children of Israel threw their children to Moloch.”
This type of language is reflective of Dominionism, and to help us understand what Christian Dominionism is and why voters should be concerned will be Leah Burton, an expert on this topic who serves on the Board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Her book on a major political figure who is a part of the Christian Dominionist movement should be available within the year.
Liars For Jesus – A Look at David Barton's Version of History.
Back in April, 2009, Right Wing Watch reported that the Texas State Board of Education appointed "experts" to guide the Board with the revision of social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools. They included "David Barton of the fundamentalist, Texas-based group WallBuilders, whose degree is in religious education, not the social sciences, and the Rev. Peter Marshall of Peter Marshall Ministries in Massachusetts, who suggests that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were divine punishments for tolerance of homosexuality." Citing information gathered by the Texas Freedom Network, Right Wing Watch, the blog of People for the American Way, went on to report that:
Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is a self-styled “historian” without any formal training in the field. He argues that separation of church and state is a “myth” and that the nation’s laws should be based on Scripture. He says, for example, that the Bible forbids taxes on income and capital gains. Yet even such groups as Texas Baptists Committed and the Baptist Joint Committee have sharply criticized Barton’s interpretations of the Constitution and history.
Barton also acknowledges having used in his publications and speeches nearly a dozen quotes he has attributed to the nation’s Founders even though he can’t identify any primary sources showing that they really said them.
Some state board members have criticized what they believe are efforts to overemphasize the contributions of minorities in the nation’s history. It is alarming, then, that in 1991 Barton spoke at events hosted by groups tied to white supremacists. He later said he hadn’t known the groups were “part of a Nazi movement.”
In addition, Barton’s WallBuilders Web site suggests as a “helpful” resource the National Association of Christian Educators/Citizens for Excellence in Education, an organization that calls public schools places of "social depravity" and "spiritual slaughter."
The Peter Marshall Ministries Web site includes Marshall’s commentaries sharply attacking Muslims, characterizing the Obama administration as “wicked,” and calling on Christian parents to reject public education for their children.
Marshall has also attacked Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. In his call for a spiritual revival in America last year, he called traditional mainline Protestantism an “institutionally fossilized, Bible-rejecting shell of Christianity.”
A controversial figure, Barton has been appearing on the Glenn Beck show, touting his historical expertise and supposed quotes by the Founding Fathers that in his view, support the notion that the Founding Fathers intended that the United States be a "Christian nation."
One of the most thorough repudiations of Mr. Barton's claims has been delivered by Chris Rodda, senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and author of the book, Liars for Jesus. Ms. Rodda has painstakingly gone through Barton's quote mining and compared these quotes with the original documents.
At her website, Liars For Jesus, Rodda provides links to images of the actual documents so that readers can see for themselves how quotes were either misstated or taken out of context by Barton. This incredible footnote resource is accessible here. Her book is also available for purchase on her site.
Chris has a fantastic video series that highlights the lies told about her on the Wallbuilders radio show, as well as falsehoods spread about American history. All nine videos can be found here at God Discussion.
From a Teacher's Perspective.
Dakota O'Leary is a regular contributor to the God Discussion site. She is a scholar of theology and literature, an interdisciplinary field that studies how society interprets faith through the literature it produces. She is also a 9th grade English teacher on a Native American reservation through national service. Her scholarly interests include fundamentalist Christianity in American culture, Native American spirituality, and religion and education. We'll get her take on teaching "Christian nationalism" — as well as creationism instead of science — from a school teacher's perspective. Her Native American students had some enlightened insight, which Dakota will share with us.
Knowledge is power and getting the word out about these issues is critical. Adam — the Man of the Earth — will share with us his experiences and insight on being a YouTube activist. Adam helps with the news that we normally feature at the beginning of the shows. Having earned a biology major, Adam has been concerned about efforts to teach creationism as science in the schools. For purposes of this show, he represents the "younger generation" of activists who are concerned about church and state issues.
We'll also explore other ways of activism online.
As always, calls will be welcome during the show and the web chat room will be open. We'll monitor the chat room as best as we can and relay the questions and comments to our guests. Each guest will appear in the order presented in this article.
Time: Thursday, May 27, 2010 @ 7:00 p.m. PACIFIC (see time conversions below)
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