On April 30 we reported that Texas State Board of Education members were appointing a social studies “expert” panel that includes unqualified ideologues who argue that the Constitution doesn’t protect church-state separation and want U.S. laws and public policies to be based on the Bible. We’ve also seen signs that anti-Muslim bigotry could play a big role in the debate over what Texas students learn in their history, geography and other social studies classrooms. Now we have another sign.
An Internet talk show hosted by David Barton, one of the new social studies panelists and head of the Christian-right advocacy group WallBuilders, will feature an interview with Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center on Tuesday, May 12. The show’s title is “AIG Promoting Islam?”
What’s this all about?
The Thomas More Law Center is a legal outfit based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that uses the courts to advance the religious right’s “culture war” on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and even evolution. In fact, Thomas More represented creationist school board members in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District court case in which a federal judge found that teaching “intelligent design” in public schools is unconstitutional.
Last December Thomas More filed a lawsuit claiming the federal government’s bailout of American International Group, the huge insurance company at the heart of the financial meltdown late last year, violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The lawsuit claims the federal government is promoting Islam because AIG had developed insurance products for Muslim customers that don’t violate strict Islamic law on such things as charging interest.
Mainstream conservatives, such as a blogger at Secular Right, have been among the strongest critics of the lawsuit:
The fact is that offering some products that are of special appeal to Muslims does not amount to supporting Islam any more than offering a wider choice of meatless entrees during Lent amounts to supporting Christianity. Given the action’s likely unsuccess in court, it’s hard to see what point it could have other than to stick a symbolic thumb in the eye of devout believers in Islam.
The “endorsement” argument doesn’t make sense here, because reasonable observers wouldn’t treat the government’s decision to bail out AIG, including its subdivision that sells financial products that Muslims prefer for religious reasons, as an endorsement of Islam.
(T)his lawsuit seems to be patently frivolous and based more in a hostility toward Islam than a true belief in a separation of church and state.
Isn’t it a bit galling that the Christian right, which so opposes separation of church and state, is ready to misuse that constitutional protection to promote religious bigotry?
Of course, the Christian-right media has been doing all it can to fuel the fires of anti-Muslim hysteria. A headline on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Web site asks “Islam Waging Financial Jihad?” The story quotes one of the hysterics talking about the U.S. government-AIG-Islam links (such as they are) from last December:
Today it’s happening at the Treasury Department under the Bush administration, to say nothing of what will happen under the Obama administration– actively promoting the activity. It’s madness. It’s reckless. I think if most Americans knew what was going on here, if they knew what was at stake, would be horrified.
After American International Group Inc, or AIG, reached two major bailout agreements totaling $152.5 billion in taxpayer dollars, the company is stepping up its dealings with Islamic finance by offering Shariah-compliant homeowners insurance to the U.S. – outraging critics over AIG’s support of a “discriminatory ideology, that is against equality, and that is against liberty.”
And now David Barton, newly appointed as a social studies “expert” who will help decide what the next generation of Texas schoolchildren learn about the world and its people, is using his radio show to contribute to the anti-Muslim bigotry crusade.
Are we surprised? Of course not. Last fall Texas State Board of Education member David Bradley, R-BeaumontBuna, used religious bigotry in his re-election campaign against Laura Ewing of Friendswood. Bradley sent out campaign fliers darkly suggesting that Ewing wanted to indoctrinate students with Islamic teachings.
Needless to say, the social studies curriculum battle could get very ugly.
UPDATE: Oh, this is lovely. Turns out that earlier this year, Thomas More teamed up with right-wing hate-radio host Michael Savage to oppose any efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Never mind that President Obama has said he opposes the Fairness Doctrine’s reinstatement. In fact, what concern there is that it will be reinstated is mostly manufactured by far-right hysterics.
Anyway, Savage is a particularly loathsome creature. In 2003 he launched into an on-air hate-fit, attacking a caller to his show:
Oh, you’re one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it.
In announcing Thomas More’s work with Savage, Richard Thompson had this to say:
With the stink of public corruption blanketing Washington, with our elected officials passing the single largest spending bill in our nation’s history without even reading or debating it, with the increasing nationalization of our financial institutions, with almost dictatorial control of Congress by one political party, and with increasing signs we are becoming a socialistic country, Americans need more dynamic talk show hosts like Savage, not less.
And Thompson is the guy Barton, the State Board of Education’s illustrious “social studies expert,” plans to promote on his show this week.