SBOE Conservatives Allege Islamic Bias in Textbooks

Don McLeroy, a member of the Texas State Board of Education, at the Texas Tribune offices in October.
Don McLeroy, a member of the Texas State Board of Education, at the Texas Tribune offices in October.

Members of the State Board of Education’s hard-right wing appear poised to inject themselves in the national fray over Islamic influence in America with a resolution warning textbook publishers that a “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias has tainted some past Texas Social Studies textbooks.”

Oddly, the resolution emanated from Randy Rives, a candidate for State Board of Education District 15. Rives lost the Republican primary — badly — to the more moderate incumbent Republican, Bob Craig of Lubbock.

“It’s a little unusual,” says Board Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. “We don’t typically have resolutions brought by members of the public,” particularly a losing candidate for office. Lowe put the resolution on the agenda, she says, after getting requests to do so from constituents and from social conservative board allies Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio; Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands; Don McLeroy, R-Bryan; and Terri Leo, R-Spring.

Typically, resolutions don’t mean much, Lowe said: “I’m not a big fan of resolutions, national car buying month or biscuit-eating week or whatever. They don’t bind anybody to anything.”

They do provide a platform for grandstanding, however. The resolution comes at a time when internationally notorious state Board of Education has been usually out of the spotlight. Meanwhile, conservatives nationally have fueled the uproar over the Ground Zero mosque. Since the the board’s furious debates earlier this year over the history curriculum, finally settled in May, members have generally avoided the news-of-the-weird circuit.

 

No more: Now some members are contending that the 2002 board — also Republican-dominated — somehow let some anti-Christian, pro-Islamic stuff into Lone Star textbooks. Among the outrages cited: “allotting 82 student text lines to Christian beliefs, practices, and holy writings but 159 (almost twice as many) to those of Islam; describing Crusaders' massacres of European Jews yet ignoring the Muslim Tamerlane's massacre of perhaps 90,000 co-religionists at Baghdad in 1401, and of perhaps 100,000 Indian POWs at Delhi in 1398; thrice charging medieval Christians with sexism; and saying the Church "laid the foundations for anti-Semitism."

Given this allegedly ignoble track record of censoring Islamic atrocities, some board members want to issue this stern warning to publishers: “That the SBOE will look to reject future prejudicial Social Studies submissions that continue to offend Texas law with respect to treatment of the world's major religious groups by significant inequalities of coverage space-wise and/or by demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others, as in the above-cited instances.”

The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors religious extremism and dogs board conservatives’ every move, called the resolution a colossal waste of energy: “They really think a Republican-dominated state board in 2002 adopted pro-Muslim and anti-Christian books, and that even one school district in the state would buy such a textbook?” said TFN spokesman Dan Quinn. “It shows you how absurd this is.”

Yet TFN plans to mobilize its standard response, with a news conference featuring offended clergy scheduled for Monday. TFN’s website lays out a full analysis of “half truths” and distortions in the resolution, citing the original textbooks.

Lowe says the board plans to take up the matter September 24. She says she will endeavor to avoid casting a vote, as the board chair often does unless a member calls for a roll-call vote or her vote is needed to break a tie. But Lowe, who usually votes with the social conservative bloc, said she would vote to approve the resolution if forced. “It would be unusual to have a record vote” on a nonbinding resolution, Lowe says. “But we’ve done quite a few unusual things this year.”

 

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