Students in some Texas public school Bible courses learn that the Founding Fathers were largely orthodox Protestant Christians who intended for the United States to be a distinctively Christian nation with laws and a form of government based on the Bible. Countless historians and other scholars have shown how such claims are distortions, but those distortions are core beliefs among ideologues on the religious right. The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund’s new report, Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011-12 by Prof. Mark Chancey at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, documents one prominent way such courses promote this ideological perspective: “proof by sound bite.” From the report:
“The most common technique for making such arguments is to string together quotations lauding the Bible, Christianity or religion in general from political philosophers, historic documents, the Founding Fathers and other famous Americans. These quotations are typically cited in a completely decontextualized manner, almost as if they are biblical proof texts with self-evident meanings. Fake quotes never actually uttered by the speaker to whom they are attributed are cited side by side with legitimate ones. Even authentic quotes are sometimes presented in such a way as to misrepresent the views of their sources, and no quotes that would support alternative viewpoints are discussed or acknowledged.”
All of those techniques are troubling, of course. But perhaps the most astonishing is the presentation of phony quotations in curriculum materials. For example, consider these quotations provided in materials used in a number of school districts:
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (attributed to Patrick Henry)
“The whole inspiration of our civilization springs from the teachings of Christ and the lessons of the prophets. To read the Bible for these fundamentals is a necessity of American life.” (attributed to Herbert Hoover)
“The Bible is the source of liberty.” (attributed to Thomas Jefferson)
As Prof. Chancey documents in his meticulous endnotes for the report, no evidence exists that those quotations are authentic. Yet they are presented to students in Texas public schools as real and historical proof supporting an ideological point of view.
The TFN Education Fund’s new report includes many other examples of serious flaws in Texas public school Bible courses. You can read a short overview of the report here. Read what some Texas courses teach about race, Judaism, creationism, and the end times, and how they promote faith beliefs as fact and portray the Bible as “one of the most accurate history books in the world.”