A group of interfaith religious leaders from the Texas Faith Network, a project of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, just held a press conference in Austin to condemn a proposed anti-Islam resolution that will be considered on Friday by the State Board of Education. Read more about the resolution here. Today’s press release is below.
We were proud to see this fantastic group of Christian, Jewish and Islamic clergy come together to reject the promotion of religious prejudice and hate in our public schools. Then right after the press conference, one of the religious right’s lobbyists, Jonathan Saenz of Liberty Institute (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) sounded angry and confused as he bashed those very faith leaders who had just spoken for religious freedom and against intolerance and bigotry.
Speaking to reporters gathered around him, Saenz refused to denounce the misleading and inflammatory rhetoric in the proposed resolution. He even suggested that Texas students really are using anti-Christian, pro-Islamic textbooks. That’s right: apparently Saenz wants Texans to believe that the state board’s Republican majority and Democratic members are part of some great anti-Christian conspiracy in Texas. Does he really believe board members approved anti-Christian textbooks for our public schools or that school districts would actually buy such books? Your guess is as good as ours. It’s hard to know which is worse: the religious right’s paranoid, intolerant nonsense or its cynical abuse of faith to divide Texans for political gain.
An interfaith group today released an open letter from Texas religious leaders calling on the State Board of Education to reject a proposed resolution that attacks Islam and falsely claims social studies textbooks have an anti-Christian bias.
“As leaders from faith communities across Texas, we urge the state board to reject this misleading and inflammatory resolution,” said Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones, Superintendent of the Austin District of the United Methodist Church. “Once again, however, realistic information takes a back seat to religious intolerance here, and education suffers a blow.”
Imam Islam Mossaad of the North Austin Muslim Community Center called on the state board to ensure that textbooks respect people of all faiths.
“Our children’s textbooks must treat all religions accurately and fairly, neither denigrating any faith, nor promoting one religion over others,” Imam Islam said. “This commitment to religious freedom is a true American value we all share.”
A failed state board candidate from West Texas, Randy Rives, asked the board to consider the resolution in July. The board is set to consider the measure at its meeting this week in Austin. The Texas Faith Network, which includes mainstream religious leaders from across the state, circulated the open letter.
Nearly 100 religious leaders so far have signed on to the letter, which will be delivered to state board members at their meeting this week.
The resolution board members are considering claims that world history textbooks reflect anti-Christian and pro-Islamic bias. Rev. Larry Bethune of University Baptist Church in Austin noted that the board has not asked scholars to review the resolution’s charges or the textbooks. Moreover, a Texas Freedom Network review of the resolution and textbooks currently used in Texas classrooms shows that the charges are deeply misleading and in many cases plainly false.
“We hope the state board this time will reject efforts to divide people of faith with ‘culture war’ tactics like this unwise resolution,” Rev. Bethune said. “It’s important that board members put education ahead of politics and ensure that Texas doesn’t become a poster child for intolerance toward people of any faith.”
Press conference speakers today represented Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
“Together we are speaking out against divisive attacks directed toward any religion,” said Rabbi Neil Blumofe of Austin’s Congregation Agudas Achim. “Religious bigotry has no place in our society, and especially not in our children’s textbooks and classrooms.”