Humanists Say to Texas State Board of Education, 'Don't Mess With Texas'

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Karen Frantz, communications and policy manager, office:
202-238-9088, cell: 703-725-4112, kfrantz@americanhumanist.org

American Humanist Association

Humanists Say to Texas State Board of Education, 'Don't Mess With Texas'

WASHINGTON - The American Humanist Association
sent an open letter to the Texas State Board of Education today,
urging them not to rewrite the state's social studies curriculum in a
way that would portray the United States as having biblical
foundations or to minimize the country's tradition of separation of
church and state and religious pluralism. In conjunction with the
letter, the humanist organization also launched a petition
(http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/318/t/9133/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=2048)
calling on the school board to maintain historical accuracy and
integrity. The letter and petition were prompted by reports that
experts asked to review the state's K-12 curriculum have advised the
Texas State Board of Education to pay more attention to "biblical
motivations of America's settlers and founders."

"A troubling trend has developed over the past few years by religious
conservatives to revise history in order to portray the United States
as a Christian nation," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the
American Humanist Association. "But the United States government is
secular and our society is made up of people from all faiths and
non-faith. It's dishonest and inaccurate to teach our kids anything
else."

The social studies curriculum set in Texas affects public school
children throughout the country due to the fact that Texas has the
second-largest school system, and thus textbooks used country-wide are
often written to meet their guidelines.

The text of the letter sent today appears below:

Dear Texas State Board of Education,

As the education coordinator of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center
of the American Humanist Association, I am deeply concerned about the
social studies standards currently being set in Texas public schools.
Recent reports that advisors to the Texas School Board have
recommended a new social studies curriculum that would present the
United States as having biblical foundations and would minimize our
nation’s strong tradition of separation of church and state are
troubling.

Speaking as a former elementary school teacher and college professor
in the area of curriculum development, I strongly urge you not to
adopt such a curriculum, which would not meet vital standards of
historical context and accuracy and would do children in Texas public
schools a great disservice. Any social studies curriculum that Texas
adopts, in order to meet the highest standards of academic excellence
and historical accuracy, must refer to America’s secular heritage and
our tradition of religious pluralism.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and
many other patriots believed that our government did not ground itself
in Christianity or the Christian bible, but rather the United States
Constitution, a secular document. In fact, nowhere in the Constitution
is there a single mention of Christianity, God, Jesus or any Supreme
Being. There are only two references to religion and both use
exclusionary wording: the First Amendment says that “Congress shall
make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” and Article VI,
Section 3 says that “… no religious test shall ever be required as a
qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

With regard to America’s tradition of religious pluralism, we need
only look at the abundance of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples
and shrines throughout the country to see the positive effects that a
secular society divorced from religion has on religious freedom and
diversity. Pluralism has always been an important strand in the United
States’ history and character, and the religious landscape has always
been dynamic and diverse. As President Barack Obama recently stated,
“We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or
a Muslin nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are
bound by ideals and a set of values.” President Obama’s words are not
only relevant for today, but speak truth to the United States’ respect
for pluralistic religion and belief that was established at our
country’s founding.

We believe that it is important to teach about the significance of
religion in history and society. But when that subject is taught, it
should be taught in an objective and unbiased way. Fortunately, there
are organizations which have resources for teaching about religion at
all grade levels. I call your attention to OABITAR (which stands for
“Objectivity, Accuracy and Balance In Teaching About Religion”), and I
strongly urge the developers of social studies standards in Texas to
become familiar with the 36 lesson plans in their web site—which, as
they state, are committed to “national pluralism.” Two of the
outstanding curriculum resources are “The Bill of Rights Is For Us
Today” and “Different Drummers: Nonconforming Thinkers in History.” I
also urge you to study their six position statements, the last of
which states, “Teaching about religion in public education needs to
serve the interests of a pluralistic society, preparing students to
meet with aplomb the full spectrum of religious and nonreligious
diversity within the public realm.”

We would, of course, be very pleased to discuss our position with you
further and to work with you in any way we can to assure that all
students in your state receive a balanced, objective and comprehensive
historical perspective.

Sincerely,

Robert D. Bhaerman, Ed. D.
Coordinator, Kochhar Humanist Education Center
American Humanist Association

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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across the United States.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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