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TribBlog: SBOE Rejects Church-State Wall (Updated)

America never barred "the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others," according to board conservatives.

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In a party-line vote, the State Board of Education moments ago voted down an amendment that sought to teach students about the value of separating church and state.

The amendment, by Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, read: "Examine the reasons why the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others."

One of the board's most ardent social conservatives, Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, gave an impassioned rebuke of the historical evidence for church-state separation, ultimately calling it simply inaccurate. 

"One of the things we keep getting pounded about by the other side is injecting religion into the curriculum. No we're not," she said. But neither would the board accept concepts in religion and politics that are "not historically accurate," Dunbar said.

In the 5-10 vote — which Knight asked to have recorded by member name, not standard in committee votes — all Republicans on the board voted against the amendment. All Democrats voted for it.


Here are extensive excerpts from Dunbar and Knight, the only two members who argued publicly over the church-state amendment:

From Dunbar:

"We get into a whole constitutional debate when we start addressing these issues that are too complex to even discuss, let alone put a pre-conceived ideology into the textbooks for these children. To have a concept that the founding fathers had, there’s no way. This (Knight's amendment) is not an accurate perception. It is certainly not something that the founding fathers would have presented as far as barring (mingling of church and state). It was actually a jurisdictional concept. If you read Madison … these rights, of us to be able to worship god according to the dictates of his conscience, were related to the fact that civil government didn’t have jurisdiction to even enter into that debate. And even the ideology of the free exercise of religion … we keep talking about where that language came from on the separation of church and state, the clause is specifically no establishment and free exercise. Free exercise came from a sermon by William cooper, where he specifically coined the phrase as to the free exercise of holy religion … This debate is too broad. One of things keep getting pounded about by the other side is conservatives trying to inject religion into the TEKS (standards). No we’re not. But nor do we want our religious history to be painted and drawn from a viewpoint that is not historically accurate."


From Knight:

It doesn't appear to me we've defined religion defined religion in any form fashion or manner it is as listed through this document. This is a political and legal concept …  Certainly you wouldn’t expect the students to be constitutional attorneys and get into the magnitude and depth of knowledge of my colleague. But certainly they could have an introductory debate as to the political and legal concepts that derive out of the founding documents, though some may consider it a perversion since there’s a Supreme Court decision around what the wall of separation of  church and state meant. It has nothing to do with the left or the right, which we have constantly talked about, instead of what is best for the children to know. We have pitted ourselves, left versus right, liberal textbook writers versus conservative textbooks writers. It’s projection. You’re all in the same pot when you start labeling left and right, or whatever else is out there.

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