In a morning prayer to open the State Board of Education meeting, social conservative member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, mixed worship with a constitutional argument against the separation of church and state — previewing the politically charged debate to come later today, as conservatives tackle their last big agenda item before approving the state social studies standards.
by Brian Thevenot
In a fitting preview for the debate to come later today, the State Board of Education opened its meeting with a prayer from member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, who used the opportunity to lay out her views that the Bill of Rights and the constitutional founding of America were divinely inspired by her Lord Jesus Christ.
After a 15-hour meeting Thursday, marked by bitter bickering, the board is expected to give final approval today to its controversial social studies standards, but not before board conservatives take up one last cherished goal: To throw cold water on the separation of church and state and imbue the curriculum with the notion of America as a “Christian nation,” as Dunbar said in her prayer/constitutional argument this morning, and has explored previously in her book.
With heads bowed in the room, Dunbar took care to mention the early colonial documents in which she believes the constitution is rooted, such as Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, a favorite of social conservatives on the board who call the separation of church and state a myth. While the constitution expressly forbids the state “establishment of religion” in the First Amendment, the earlier Connecticut document, a kind of state constitution, embraces the mission “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Another favorite cite of the Christian-nation crowd is the Mayflower Compact, which describes the landmark journey as being “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith.”
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Those documents already have made their way into the curriculum, under a standard for eighth graders: “analyze the importance of the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut and the Virginia House of Burgesses to the growth of representative government.”
Today, the board will take up at least one amendment addressing the dreaded separation document more directly. An early draft from board member and former chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, — which board members said may change a bit — reads, “contrast the Founders’ intent relative to the wording of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, with the popular term, ‘Separation of Church and State.'”
The “popular term” came from Thomas Jefferson — not necessarily a favored Founder of the board, having been a deist rather than a Christian. Asked about the constitutional intent of the first amendment by the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson wrote in 1802, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship … I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;' thus building a wall of eternal separation between Church & State.”
Though Dunbar has insisted she is fond of Jefferson, she moved earlier to remove him from a list of Enlightenment philosophers in the world history curriculum — a move that more moderate board members may try to reverse later today, according to board observers. (Jefferson remains in the curriculum elsewhere, as board members have taken pains to emphasize amid national reports of his removal.) Dunbar replaced Jefferson with religious thinkers including John Calvin and Thomas Acquinas, and Sir William Blackstone, an influential English judge who wrote a lasting treatise on common law. The reference to the Enlightenment — an 18th century movement emphasizing science and reason over religion and tradition — also disappeared in the Dunbar edit.
After last night's marathon meeting, it’s unclear when the board will commence to undermining the legacy of decades of Supreme Court decisions. Word of a potential “compromise” has floated through the room this morning. But the smart money is betting on Dunbar and against Jefferson and his infernal separation notions. Such notions may be taught in almost every public school in America, but as Dunbar will tell you, public schools are a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.”
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