The Say-Town Lowdown – Guest Column

Earlier this month, the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group founded by Cecil Richards (daughter of the late Governor Ann Richards), released its second annual report on the state of the Religious Right in Texas. The report, God’s Lawgivers, highlights a special 14-person “watchlist” (including San Antonio’s Ken Mercer, recently elected to the State Board of
Education) and gives the reader a
rundown of what the Religious Right and its money is up to in Texas.

“The report is kind of a primer on how the Religious Right influences public policy and politics in Texas,” said Dan Quinn, TFN’s communications director and the report’s editor, adding that Texas is “ground zero for the Religious Right and its agenda across the country. Texas has become a breeding ground for movement leadership and financial support and models the rest of the country can follow.”

In fact, one need look no further than the Texas Restoration Project, a group of evangelical pastors hell-bent on playing politics. The Restoration Project, one group highlighted in the report, encourages its members to vote “Christian,” and had none other than Texas Governor Rick Perry take part in a closed-door policy briefing in 2005.

In addition, battles being waged before the State Board of Education over such topics as evolution and sex education in textbooks have gained national attention, such as the 2003 battle over evolution versus intelligent design.

Every time the Religious Right majority on the SBOE is successful in censoring something from a textbook, it has an impact nationwide, as Texas is one of the largest buyers of classroom materials in the nation. Consider, even though scientific knowledge won out in the 2003 evolution battle, textbook publishers were so eager to earn the state’s business that, the following year, new high-school health textbooks were submitted for consideration that omitted information on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. In a partial victory for common sense, information on contraception was included in teachers’ editions — student editions still fail to include such information.

TFN’s report this year also pays  homage to state Representative Warren Chisum, who made statewide news this past week. The Pampa Republican could easily be called the fourth most powerful man in state government because he controls the purse strings from his lofty perch as Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations.

Last week, he forwarded his colleagues a memo from Georgia State Representative Ben Bridges, who could aptly be called “a total nutcase.” Among other things, this memo declares that the teaching of evolution is illegal and stops just short of declaring evolution a Kabbalist theory. To boot, Bridges’ memo lists a website that claims the earth does not revolve around the sun, an issue Copernicus laid to rest before the Spanish even conquered Texas. Chisum has now apologized for circulating the Bridges memo, and has assured Jewish leaders that he’s not an anti-Semite.

There’s also that little matter of the Right’s less-government-is-good-but-let’s-legislate-morality nutty disconnect, says TFN’s Quinn.

“In the past, in a lot of cases you found people railing against the so-called ‘nanny state.’ They said government was not there to protect us from our bad habits and poor choices. Now, we’ve become the ‘busybody state.’” says Quinn. “There has been an organized effort to promote someone’s religious views as our own and make more government oversight in places government has no place, such as deciding who we marry, how we practice our faith, and whether or not we can be foster parents.”

The TFN reports’ collection of snappy quotes of dumb things said by Religious Righters  (such as when recently defeated Dallas state Representative Bill Keffer, a Republican, said that the downfall of public schools was a direct result of integration) may be funny, but keep in mind Texas and Governor Good Hair have become models for the rest of the nation. 


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