Dispatches from the Creation Wars

As things begin to heat up over the lawsuit to stop the highly sectarian Bible curriculum in Odessa, Texas, one courageous teacher in the district is taking a public stand. Her name is Lisa Roth and she is Jewish. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper trying to inform the citizens of the area what it’s like to Jewish in a place like that and why the Bible curriculum makes it more difficult. I’ll reprint the entire letter below the fold.

I am writing as a parent, as a member of the Jewish community in the Permian Basin and, despite concerns about my job, as a teacher in this school district.

I have been respectful and professional in expressing my thoughts about selecting a Bible course in ECISD.

I reviewed the Bible curricula under consideration last spring, and then I spoke at the public forum.

Other members of our Jewish community reviewed the curricula and wrote letters to the school board, as well. And yet, when it came time for a final board decision, Randy Rives said publicly that he hadn’t heard from anyone in the Jewish community.

And most recently, I read in the Odessa American Butch Foreman’s disrespectful response to concerns about the Bible class: “If they don’t have children in the class, they can kiss my butt. They’re looking to impose their beliefs and their views on everybody, and we don’t put up with that crap out here.”

Enough is enough. These repeated public insults of my religion and our legitimate questions about the Bible curriculum are perfect examples of the very concerns I have about a biased presentation of the Bible in our schools.

After all, as some of us pointed out in our presentations to the board last spring, there is more than one version of the Bible. There’s even more than one Christian version.

Furthermore, there have been and are currently Jewish students in Odessa and Midland who are reduced to tears or fighting to defend themselves because of religious harassment.

No, they’re not in the Bible class right now. But does that make their experience any less real?

And make no mistake; just because it’s an elective doesn’t mean it won’t affect my child or others. If we offered an elective promoting white supremacy, it would certainly have an effect on all students, whether they took the class or not.

This is why I object to a Bible class in public school that suggests the supremacy of one religion over another.

You might think one religion IS better than another, but public school is not the place to teach this.

Unfortunately, the Bible curriculum currently being offered does do this. It is not just a class about the history of the Bible, or the history of the Bible in literature. I have read some of the curriculum, and I invite everyone to do the same.

While the writers claim it is not biased, it may be hard to recognize the bias if you have been raised in the particular tradition it teaches.

But the two students in the course who were quoted in the newspaper recently said it clearly. Although one person claimed the curriculum is unbiased, she went on to say, “However, I can see people being upset with it being “only Christian-based.” And another man, in claiming that our ancestors came to American to have Christian religious freedom, seems to have missed two points. First, his ancestors might have been seeking freedom to worship a Christian faith; mine were seeking freedom to follow their own Jewish faith. Second, it is important to remember that our country’s founders wanted to escape the religious tyranny of their country’s government. They set up some safeguards, including the First Amendment, to prevent such tyranny from happening all over again.

Harassment of Jewish children is a fact in our school system. In this atmosphere of religious intolerance, there is no such thing as a “harmless” Bible class that promotes only one Christian perspective.

This atmosphere of religious intolerance is both fostered and legitimized by Foreman’s remarks. My experience as a parent, a Jew, and a teacher in this district is not “crap.” My daughter’s tears are not “crap.” My effort to educate Odessa about the experiences of our children is not “imposing my view on you.”

I am not the only teacher or community member who objects to this particular Bible course. But few will speak out for fear of retribution.

Our founding fathers most likely argued about how to form this new country, but I don’t think fear and intimidation is what any of them had in mind for religious freedom. How long are we going to let this continue?

Yes, we can study aspects of Bible in public school; but this course currently being taught is not the way to do it. There are other options to consider.

I ask this community and the school board to consider carefully what values you want to teach the children in our community and the best way to guide them. Every action you take — or don’t take — teaches something, even if only by example.

If, as I strongly believe, the Christian majority in our community believes in religious tolerance, I urge people to speak up and speak out against the current Bible curriculum and Foreman’s intolerant remarks.

Lisa Roth
Odessa

Unfortunately, I doubt many will understand her concerns or care about her experiences or those of her daughter. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the main thing she gets from expressing her thoughts are rude comments and threats.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris F.
    May 30, 2007

    Do you have a link to the actual text of the curriculum?

  2. #2 flatlander100
    May 30, 2007

    She will get some threats and some abusive mail and phone calls, no doubt. But what most Odessa Christians will do, I suspect, is ignore the content of her letter completely, and, instead, get down on their knees and pray that she shall come to Jesus and be saved. And I find that, in a way, even scarier.

  3. #3 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 30, 2007

    The other two letters at that link are disappointing.

  4. #4 meerasedai
    May 30, 2007

    Thank you for posting this letter. It really presents the issue well.

  5. #5 Fastlane
    May 30, 2007

    And the second and third letters demonstrate quite clearly the problems pointed out by the first. But I’m sure the irony will be lost on them.

    The third one in particular, by Jackie Gillis, is of particular concern, as this person demonstrates a glaring ignorance of history, civil rights, and the founding of our country all in a short piece, yet this person is a school teacher? Ah well.

  6. #6 dogmeatib
    May 30, 2007

    I love the rant in the second letter about the 80+ kids enrolled in the class being more than the 8 opposed to the class.

    Hello, Earth to moron, it doesn’t matter if there was 1 kid’s family making the argument and 100,000 kids in the class, the whole purpose of the protections provided in the Bill of Rights is to protect the rights of a minority.

  7. #7 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 30, 2007

    I’m sure that vast army of “moderate Christians” we keep hearing about will leap into action soon and admonish the Fundagelicals for going overboard. Real Soon Now.

  8. #8 Eveningsun
    May 30, 2007

    Chris F. asks, “Do you have a link to the actual text of the curriculum?”

    I don’t think the curriculum’s sponsors have made the text public (I read somewhere that they try not to expose it to unfriendly audiences), but the group’s web site is at http://www.bibleinschools.net/.

    People for the American Way’s critique of the curriculum is available at http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=1353.

    Another great resource, from the secular First Amendment Center, is available for download at http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/about.aspx?id=6261.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    May 30, 2007

    Probably the best resource is a report on the curriculum done by SMU religious studies professor Mark Chancey. You can find it at http://www.tfn.org/religiousfreedom/biblecurriculum/ncbcpsreport/.

  10. #10 Eveningsun
    May 30, 2007

    Thanks, Ed. I look forward to reading Chancey’s report.

    I just read the following paragraph in a spot-on editorial in an online Odessa newspaper:

    “And to have a board member say ‘kiss my butt’ to the rest of the country and to have a district administrator write an e-mail that said ‘TAKE THAT YOU HEATHENS’ after the Bible curriculum was picked (as alleged in the lawsuit) is embarrassing to say the least.”

    “Take that you heathens”? Boy, is THAT gonna look good in court!

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    May 30, 2007

    Yeah, that’s the funny thing about this. My buddy Dan and I were talking about this the other day, the disconnect between the national organizations who understand how to carefully craft rhetoric and their followers, who reflexively revert to their “standing up for Jesus” rhetoric. This was so obvious in the Dover case, where the DI carefully avoids tying ID to Christianity or creationism, but the school board just wasn’t on board with the approved terminology. They spoke openly of ID as creationism and of wanting to “take a stand” for Jesus. The same thing happens here. The lawyers know that when you put in a Bible class like this one you have to talk about increasing cultural literacy and about the Bible as an important historical text (and it is, of course) regardless of one’s religious views. But the folks on the ground trying to get such policies passed don’t care for such subtleties; they’re standing up for Jesus and they want everyone to know it. And the guys at the top, trying desperately to hide that fact, are like frustrated movie directors yelling “Just stick to the damn script” at actors improvising their lines.

  12. #12 Bob Carroll
    May 30, 2007

    Chancey does not refer to the extensive, word-for-word copying from multiple sources of extensive sections of the curriculum as “plagiarism,” perhaps due to scholarly reticence. Another example of “ethical behavior” from the religious (?) right.

  13. #13 Dwimr
    May 30, 2007

    Boy, is Butch Foreman channeling Bill Buckingham or what?

    It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    May 30, 2007

    Dwimr-

    I’ve already got Foreman pegged as the Bill Buckingham of this case. The parallels with the Dover trial are as thick as thieves.

  15. #15 Dwimr
    May 30, 2007

    We’d better get used to this crew:

    http://www.ector-county.k12.tx.us/District/BoardOfTrustees/Members.html

    Couple of potential Heather Geeseys in there, too.

  16. #16 Sastra
    May 30, 2007

    The “Rhetoric from the Top” vs. “Honesty from the Bottom” dichotomy also puts me strongly in mind of the Pledge case, where lawyers make the argument for “ceremonial deism” inside the courthouse while their supporters hold prayer rallies on the lawn outside.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    May 30, 2007

    Sastra wrote:

    The “Rhetoric from the Top” vs. “Honesty from the Bottom” dichotomy also puts me strongly in mind of the Pledge case, where lawyers make the argument for “ceremonial deism” inside the courthouse while their supporters hold prayer rallies on the lawn outside.

    Funny, I was just thinking about that last night as I continue reading Peter Irons’ excellent book, God on Trial. Pete was the original attorney in the Mt. Soledad cross case that has been going on for 15 years or so. The original judge in the case, Judge Thompson, was a conservative and an evangelical Christian. And though he said that personally he thinks the cross should stay, he was rather offended by the argument from the city attorney that the cross isn’t really a religious symbol. There is a clear disconnect here. In court they argue that it really isn’t about religion at all, just about tradition or a generic “civic religion.” Outside the courtroom, all they can talk about his how they’re defending God against the heathens. In the Dover trial, one of the lines of evidence used to demonstrate that ID is a religious idea were all the letters to the editor in the local papers. Overwhelmingly, those who wrote to support the policy knew exactly what the DI and the board was so keen to cover up – that it’s all about God. They spoke in no uncertain terms about ID being all about defending God against satanic Darwinism.

  18. #18 Sean
    May 30, 2007

    So many whirling thoughtlets. Be prepared for mental hopscotch.

    *clap clap* Nicely written letter. Pointless, I am afraid, when it comes to the likely audience in that neck of the woods already supporting Bible class.

    I particularly enjoyed the fourth paragraph where Lying For Jesus raises its ugly head already. “But, the Jews were silent!”

    My oh my, I am going to enjoy this trial. Ordering an extra case of microwave popcorn now and getting the comfy chair out. Can someone sneak a photograph of the judge’s face the moment, “Take that you heathens,” is first mentioned in court?

    With reference to the comment about the majority protecting the rights of the minority. *ping* *tawinnnng* That is the sound of that point bouncing right off the forehead of your typical right wing nutjob. They will trot out a standard We-Is-Democracy-And-Majority-Rules-So-Screw-You line in a heartbeat. As long as they spout lines about being a Christian Nation, minority rights are anathema.

  19. #19 Rasputin
    May 30, 2007

    That third letter makes me want to hurt small animals. Anyone else find it bizarre that the Christian right has a twisted combination of entitlement AND persecution? They want the right to preach at me and consider themselves being oppressed if I object? What the hell kind of logic is that? How do you think they would react if there was an elective promoting Atheism?

    I felt the need to rant about it here.

  20. #20 JC
    May 30, 2007

    I’ve just had a quick skim of Mark Chancey’s report. Assuming it is accurate (and I’ve no reason to suppose it isn’t) then the curriculum must be a hilarious read. That is, if you can forget that kids are actually being taught this work of Dadaist comedy as fact.

  21. #21 FishyFred
    May 30, 2007

    Ed: Thanks for keeping us updated on the Odessa case. I followed the Dover trial primarily through your blog and I will do the same for this case? Is there hope for a broad, Dover-esque ruling on the NCBCPS? Are you concerned about the demographics of the REDREDRED-state areas of Texas affecting the outcome of the case?

  22. #22 Gerry L
    May 30, 2007

    Rasputin: “They want the right to preach at me and consider themselves being oppressed if I object? What the hell kind of logic is that?”

    We’re wasting our time if we try to use logic with these folks. Logic, like nuance, is an “elitist” concept. (Whatever the hell elitist means.)

  23. #23 Ed Brayton
    May 30, 2007

    FishyFred wrote:

    Is there hope for a broad, Dover-esque ruling on the NCBCPS? Are you concerned about the demographics of the REDREDRED-state areas of Texas affecting the outcome of the case?

    The parallels between this and the Dover case are many, including that the judge may well face a similar situation where he would rule very narrowly (just looking at the statements of the school board as evidence of their intent to use the class as a tool to “get God back in the schools”) or more broadly (looking at the nature of the curriculum itself and whether it’s legal to use it regardless of stated intent). I expect a broader ruling, which won’t be quite as controversial. Unlike the DI, the NCBCPS has not yet learned to cover up their religious rhetoric and they speak openly of this curriculum as a tool in the culture wars to beat back the heathens and stand up for Jesus.

  24. #24 Joe
    May 31, 2007

    Unfortunately, when the court rules against this – and I hope it will, it will serve contribute to the Anne Coulterish , intolerant-of-tolerance mindset that seems to be gripping your nation increasingly. When a huge chunk of the population begins to feel that it’s cultural identity is being “oppressed” by a minority you end up with the sort of siege mentality which seems to be fueling movements like the Moral Majority. Worldwide, this sort of have thing has never ended well.

  25. #25 wrpd4
    June 3, 2007

    There is a full criticizm of the curriculum here:
    tfn.org-files-fck-BibleCurriculum.pdf
    The group makes exaggerated claims about the use of the curriculum but refuses to give any specific information (sounds familiar?). The group has close ties with the pseudo-historian David Barton. Check out the list board of directors members. My favorite one is Chuck Norris. That alone should scare anyone away.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.