Demonizing Children

That thousands of children are fleeing to this country to escape crime, violence and poverty in their Central American countries is a true human tragedy. While the Texas Freedom Network does not work on immigration issues, we — like most Americans — want our elected leaders to address this problem responsibly while also treating the children with compassion. After all, those children are innocent victims, having been sent on often perilous journeys to this country.

But extremists on the right appear to have decided to dehumanize those children as disease-ridden, violent criminals who pose a danger to American kids. Take, for example, Alice Linahan. Here’s what the head of Voices Empower, a Texas-based, political consulting firm, posted on Facebook today:

As a Mom who is a legal citizen of the US what are you doing to protect your children come Sept. when they may be exposed in our public school system to infectious disease, gang violence and individuals who have been victimized by sex trafficking? Is your local school district prepared?

Repulsive.

One might expect some of the thousands of children arriving here to be sick, especially considering their difficult journeys. But for the record, vaccination rates in Central American countries are often comparable or even better than those in the United States for conditions such as measles, whooping cough, polio, hepatitis and rotaviruses (which cause serious intestinal illnesses). But don’t bother telling Linahan. She’s too busy fear-mongering to listen.

Posted in Alice Linahan, immigration, TFNEF, Voices Empower | 4 Comments

Texas Creationists Are Still Bullying Science Textbook Publishers

Evolution deniers don’t like it when science textbooks tell students the truth. And creationists were really unhappy last year when they failed to pressure publishers into undermining the teaching of evolution in new biology textbooks adopted by the State Board of Education (SBOE) for Texas public schools. So now they’re making a last-ditch effort to bully publishers into falsifying the science in those textbooks.

We told you in January that the head of an East Texas organization that opposes the teaching of evolution, the absurdly misnamed Educational Research Analysts, had filed a formal complaint with the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Neal Frey’s complaint charged that Pearson Education’s high school biology textbook was wrong in explaining the close similarities between chimpanzee and human DNA. The textbook said scientific evidence shows that chimps are the closest living genetic relatives of humans. Creationists hate that. Pearson responded to Frey’s complaint by pointing out how he simply doesn’t know what in the world he’s talking about.

Well, this week the Texas Freedom Network discovered that SBOE Chairwoman Barbara Cargill backed Frey’s complaint. Of course, it’s no great surprise Cargill would support a fellow evolution denier’s efforts to dumb down a science textbook. What’s particularly troubling here is how she did it.

Writing in a January 8 email TFN obtained through a request under the state’s open records law, Cargill tried to pressure TEA staff into ruling that Frey’s claims about the Pearson textbook were actually valid. If TEA were to make such a ruling, Pearson would have to revise its textbook or face potentially hefty fines. Keep in mind that a strong majority of Cargill’s SBOE colleague’s voted to adopt the textbook last November. Did Cargill consult those colleagues before trying to pressure TEA staff to go after Pearson’s textbook less than two months later? We see no evidence that she did.

In any case, Cargill claimed in her email (click on the image below) that Frey told her publishers McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and STEMscopes “quickly agreed to revise” their textbooks after he told them that similar passages about chimp and human DNA in their textbooks were also inaccurate. In discussing Frey’s claims about the Pearson textbook, Cargill wrote:

“Pearson has been very hard-nosed during this adoption, so I hope staff at least agrees that these 3 items must be changed, especially knowing that 3 other publishers agreed to the changes. If the science experts at McGraw, Houghton, and STEMscopes agreed with Neal, that says a lot. Neal does his homework, and I looked into it too, just to be sure. The research is solid, accurate and current.”

CargillEmail_1.8.14But what Cargill said doesn’t appear to be true. We have found no evidence, through open records requests as well as queries to publishers, that the publishers have made the revisions Frey was demanding. In fact, our most recent open records request to TEA also revealed that Frey is now complaining — in two June emails to the agency — that STEMscopes did NOT make the changes he demanded. So he wants TEA to fine STEMscopes as well as Pearson. Moreover, as we pointed out in January, McGraw-Hill’s biology textbook says essentially the same thing Pearson’s does: that chimps are humans’ closest living genetic relatives. So contrary to Cargill’s claims, it’s clear that the publishers’ science experts don’t agree with Frey.

But Cargill and Frey think they’ve “done their homework” and that they’re more qualified on this topic than the distinguished scientists who authored the textbooks the SBOE adopted last year. So they’ll probably continue bullying publishers in an attempt to force them to teach junk science in Texas public school textbooks. We’ll be watching this very closely.

Posted in Barbara Cargill, creationism, evolution, Neal Frey, Science adoption (2013), TFNEF | 7 Comments

The Week in Quotes (June 29 – July 5)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

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Posted in The Week in Quotes | 2 Comments

Discrimination Supporters Submit Petition Signatures to Put Repeal of Houston Equal Rights Ordinance to a Vote

On Thursday, the day before America celebrated 238 years of independence, religious-right groups submitted petition signatures to put repeal of Houston’s recently passed Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) on the November ballot.

HERO bars discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics. Opponents have focused almost exclusively on protecting their right to discriminate against LGBT people.

Those discrimination supporters now say they have collected 50,000 signatures in their petition drive, more than the approximately 17,000 required to put HERO’s repeal up for a vote. City officials must now verify that those signatures are from registered voters who actually live in Houston.

The total number of petition signatures, supposedly collected over the past 30 days, must have been a bit disappointing for referendum supporters. Anti-gay groups claimed in May that people had sent more than 110,000 email messages opposed to HERO’s passage. That the number of signatures on the repeal petition is less than half that total suggests that a significant number of those emails came from a folks outside Houston. That’s not too surprising since some of the folks who testified against the ordinance in public hearings last spring were forced to admit that they didn’t even live in the city.

Even so, if enough petition signatures are verified, equality for all under the law will be put to a public vote in Houston this November. And if repeal were to pass, Houston would again become the only major city in Texas without such an anti-discrimination measure on the books.

HERO’s passage by the City Council on an 11-6 vote in May came despite a divisive and deceitful campaign waged by religious-right groups and activists to stop it. That campaign promoted fear, myths, distortions and even personal attacks against Mayor Annise Parker. Opponents denounced LGBT people as evil and shamefully (and falsely) insisted that the ordinance would set sexual predators loose in women’s restrooms. They also argued that the ordinance threatens their religious freedom — the freedom, that is, to discriminate against people they don’t like. At one point a prominent HERO opponent even insisted that religious freedom allows businesspeople and others to discriminate against anyone, including Jews as well as LGBT people.

But a broad coalition of grassroots organizations, including Equality TexasTexans Together, the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Freedom Network, working behind the courageous leadership of Mayor Parker, Council Member Ellen Cohen and faith leaders across Houston, made sure that equality won and demonstrated to the rest of the country that Houston doesn’t discriminate. We’re confident Houston voters will stand for equality and against discrimination if asked to vote on repeal in November.

Posted in civil and equal rights, LGBT issues, TFNEF | Leave a comment

50th Anniversary: What Will Texas Students Learn about the Civil Rights Movement?

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That landmark legislation bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Its enactment came after decades of struggle by civil rights advocates in the face of virulent opposition — opposition that often resorted to brutality and even murder.

President Johnson didn’t sweep away bigotry and discrimination with the simple stroke of his pen on July 2, 1964. But his signature marked a key moment when the United States truly began to fulfill the promise of equality for all under the law.

Right-wing politicians and activists have spent decades trying to rewrite the history of the struggle for civil and equal rights in this country. One of those political activists — as we explain here and here — has been David Barton, the right’s favorite phony historian and head of Texas-based WallBuilders, which argues that separation of church and state is a myth. Barton has argued that conservatives — Republicans, in particular — were the real champions of civil rights.

It is absolutely true that white southern Democratic senators successfully led efforts to kill civil rights legislation for decades. But Barton ignores the conservative Republican senators who aided southern filibusters in opposition. And his distorted recounting of the civil rights movement also ignores the legions of conservative white southerners who swung from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in opposition to that movement — especially after enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Barton served as a so-called “expert adviser” when the State Board of Education revised social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools in 2009-10. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that certain state board members also have expressed similarly twisted views of our nation’s civil rights history.

On this anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, check out in the video clip above how Don McLeroy directed curriculum writers to address civil rights when they were drafting the new social studies standards. McLeroy had recently lost his seat as chairman but was still serving on the state board at the time. Note the puzzled — even stunned — look on the face of one of the curriculum writers as McLeroy suggests that women and racial minorities in America have white men to thank for granting them equal rights.

The State Board of Education is set this year to adopt new social studies textbooks based on the deeply flawed standards McLeroy helped pass back in 2010. The Texas Freedom Network will be closely monitoring this adoption and what the new textbooks teach students about civil rights and other important topics in American history. You will be hearing much more from us about this critical textbook adoption soon.

Posted in civil and equal rights, David Barton, Don McLeroy, TFNEF | 3 Comments

Justice Ginsburg Is Right: The Hobby Lobby Decision Sends the Courts into a Minefield

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are free, because of religious objections, from the general requirement that employer insurance plans include coverage for birth control amounts to a radical redefinition of religious freedom. The court is essentially saying that women’s decisions about whether and when to have children are subject to the religious dictates of their employers. The religious or other personal beliefs of women themselves are secondary.

So what does this redefinition mean beyond the issue of birth control? Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a sharply worded dissent to the court’s 5-4 ruling, calls what lies ahead a “minefield” for the courts. (The Supreme Court’s decision and dissent are available here.) Indeed, it’s a grave threat to religious freedom because it puts our courts in the position of deciding which religious beliefs are favored over others.

The Hobby Lobby case throws open the door to for-profit corporations challenging generally applicable laws on a host of issues simply because of religiously grounded objections. Ginsburg notes such court cases in the past, including a restaurant’s refusal to serve black customers because the owner said his religious beliefs were opposed to integration. She points in another example to businesses owned by born-again Christians who have sought, because of their religious beliefs, to discriminate against single women, unmarried couples and “fornicators and homosexuals.”

Ginsburg writes (with quotes from other court cases):

Would RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] require exemptions in cases of this ilk? And if not, how does the Court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation, and which are not? Isn’t the Court disarmed from making such a judgment given its recognition that “courts must not presume to determine . . . the plausibility of a religious claim”?

Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)? According to counsel for Hobby Lobby, “each one of these cases … would have to be evaluated on its own … apply[ing] the compelling interest-least restrictive alternative test.” Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.

The Court, however, sees nothing to worry about. Today’s cases, the Court concludes, are “concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.” But the Court has assumed, for RFRA purposes, that the interest in women’s health and well being is compelling and has come up with no means adequate to serve that interest, the one motivating Congress to adopt the Women’s Health Amendment.

There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts “out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,” or the sincerity with which an asserted religious belief is held. Indeed, approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be “perceived as favoring one religion over another,” the very “risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.” The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield, by its immoderate reading of RFRA. I would confine religious exemptions under that Act to organizations formed “for a religious purpose,” “engage[d] primarily in carrying out that religious purpose,” and not “engaged . . . substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.”

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision is yet another example of why courts and judicial nominations are so important. This decision is not just a threat to women and their ability to access affordable contraception regardless of their income. The decision by the current majority on the Supreme Court takes the nation and the concept of religious freedom in a radical and dangerous direction that actually undermines rather than protects liberty and equality.

Posted in birth control, Hobby Lobby | 5 Comments

Supreme Court’s Birth Control Decision Redefines ‘Religious Freedom’

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby can opt out of the requirement that employers include coverage for birth control in their employee health insurance plans. We just sent out the following press release criticizing this reckless decision.

SUPREME COURT’S BIRTH CONTROL DECISION REDEFINES RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Allowing Employers to Impose Their Religious Beliefs on Women Turns ‘Religious Freedom’ on Its Head

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 30, 2014

Today’s Supreme Court decision allowing for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby Inc. to opt out of a requirement that employers include coverage for birth control in employee health insurance plans redefines religious freedom, Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said today.

“This decision turns the concept of religious freedom on its head,” Miller said. “Saying that employers may impose their religious beliefs on the deeply personal decisions their workers make fundamentally redefines religious freedom. In effect, this radical view holds a woman’s personal decisions about whether and when to have children hostage to the religious dictates of her employer.”

Miller noted that support for access to birth control, including through employer-provided health insurance plans, is strong in Texas. A February 2013 poll sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund found that 56 percent of registered voters in Texas opposed allowing employers to deny their workers health insurance coverage for birth control. The poll, conducted jointly by the national polling firms of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (Democratic firm) and Chesapeake Beach Consulting (Republican firm), is available here.

The Rev. Amelia Fulbright, campus minister for Labyrinth Progressive Student Ministry at the University of Texas at Austin, is one of more than 370 clergy from across Texas who have signed on to an open letter supporting policies that ensure access to birth control according to one’s own conscience or religious beliefs and regardless of income level. The clergy letter is available here.

“All of us must have the right to decide for ourselves, based on our own conscience and religious beliefs, whether to use birth control,” Rev. Fulbright said. “To give an employer a veto over that decision by denying insurance coverage for birth control undermines freedom rather than protects it. That would be especially dangerous here since birth control can be an essential part of women’s health care.”

Today’s Supreme Court rulings came in two cases: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

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The Texas Freedom Network is an Austin-based religious liberties watchdog. The grassroots, nonpartisan organization of religious and community leaders supports religious freedom, individual liberties and public education.

Posted in birth control, Hobby Lobby, TFNEF | 9 Comments

The Week in Quotes (June 22 – 28)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

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Posted in The Week in Quotes | 1 Comment

Houston RR Group Makes Big Sunday Church Push for Anti-Gay Referendum

An email from the far-right Houston Area Pastor Council today calls on pastors “to serve as the turning point in the anti-family tide” by using their churches this Sunday to collect signatures for a referendum overturning the city’s recently passed Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). From the email:

Pastors, that is a reminder that we can gather signatures ONE MORE SUNDAY so please pull out all the stops one last time! I urge you to have qualified voters with petitions at your doors before and after services as well as the tables set up in each main entrance with strong pulpit promotion again

We can truly say that like the “Walker, Texas Ranger” theme song, “The eyes of Texas are upon you!” The state is watching us and in fact the nation is watching us to see if the LGBT movement chalks up another victory at the expense of all this is good, decent and right according to the Word of God…

…or whether the pastors, congregations and citizens of Houston will serve as the turning point in the anti-family tide by stopping this HERE and NOW.

Houston’s City Council passed the Equal Rights Ordinance on May 28 by a vote of 11-6. The ordinance protects against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics.

Passage came despite a divisive and deceitful campaign by religious-right groups and activists to stop it. That campaign promoted fear, myths, distortions and even personal attacks against Mayor Annise Parker. Opponents denounced LGBT people as evil and shamefully claimed the ordinance would allow sexual predators into women’s restrooms. They also argued that the ordinance threatens their religious freedom — the freedom, that is, to discriminate against people they don’t like. At one point a Houston pastor who opposed the HERO even insisted that religious freedom allows a businessperson or anyone else to discriminate against anyone, including Jews as well as LGBT people.

In the end, however, a broad coalition of grassroots organizations, including Equality TexasTexans Together, the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Freedom Network, working behind the courageous leadership of Mayor Parker, Council Member Ellen Cohen and religious leaders across Houston, made sure that equality won and demonstrated to the rest of the country that Houston doesn’t discriminate.

Now the Houston Area Pastor Council, led by one of the city’s most vicious voices of hate, Dave Welch, hopes to repeal the HERO with a public vote. A signature campaign to put San Antonio’s new Nondiscrimination Ordinance up for a public referendum last year failed. The number of required petition signers is lower in Houston, however. Supporters of a November HERO referendum must submit their list of signers to the city by July 3.

Posted in civil and equal rights, Dave Welch, Houston Area Pastor Council, LGBT issues, TFNEF | 19 Comments

Rick Perry’s Cynical Explanation

Texas Gov. Rick Perry got a lot of criticism earlier this month when he compared homosexuality to alcoholism while answering questions at an event in San Francisco:

“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that. I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

Last week he tried to defuse the controversy over his remarks by suggesting that he had been distracted by the question over homosexuality and that, in any case, he really thinks America should be “respectful and tolerant” of everyone:

“I got asked about issues, and instead of saying, ‘You know what, we need to be a really respectful and tolerant country to everybody,’ and get back to talking about, whether you’re gay or straight, you need to be having a job. I readily admit I stepped right in it.”

Those comments are so cynical and transparently political.

It might be a little easier to believe Gov. Perry if he hadn’t made an almost identical comparison between homosexuality and alcoholism six years ago in his book On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For:

Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink. And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.

The truth is that Perry said what he did in San Francisco because he was trying to score political points at the expense of LGBT Americans. If he really believes America should be “respectful and tolerant” of everyone, perhaps he could set an example by apologizing for saying that gay military veterans returning home from war probably should choose to live somewhere other than Texas. Maybe he could acknowledge that he was horribly wrong when he complained that the Obama administration’s defense of the human rights of LGBT people imprisoned, brutalized and murdered in other countries is  “not in America’s interests” and “not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money.” Or maybe he could express regret for the cynical television ad during his disastrous presidential campaign in which he criticized openly gay military service men and women or when he compared opposing gay Boy Scouts to opposing slavery.

We won’t be holding our breath waiting for any of that to happen. The truth is that Gov. Perry has built a political career around appealing to voters who think LGBT people should be treated as, at best, second-class citizens. “Respect” and “tolerance” are empty words from people like that.

Posted in LGBT issues, Rick Perry, TFNEF | 2 Comments