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Will Texas scrap its textbooks because of religious bias?

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20 2012 11:40 a.m. MST

In October, a few Texas citizens sent emails to the state board of education expressing their concern that the children's social studies curriculum might have a pro-Islam bias.

The Texas State Board of Education says it takes these concerns seriously. In a recent meeting, after an opening prayer that began with thanking the Lord for the Christmas season and concluded with "in Jesus' name we pray," the Board heard the results of an analysis of all the social studies and history textbooks in their K-12 curriculum. The analysis has indeed revealed religious bias, but not the kind those concerned citizens expected or feared.

In response to the concerns, Region 10 Director of Instruction Jan Moberly had tasked Dr. Holly Sharp, former social studies director for Plano, Texas, with the unenviable chore of analyzing every social studies and history lesson in the new K-12 curriculum.

The results

Sharp found a strong bias in which "Christianity received more than double the development of Islam or any other religion throughout the curriculum." She also found that the last unit of the World History curriculum "actually presents a rather negative perspective of radical Islam today." She concluded that this unit has a possible "bias against radical Islam."

Questions remain about whether and how the school board plans to address these biases.

Texas law and the U.S. Constitution

Two years ago, in response to similar concerns about the outgoing curriculum, the board passed a resolution stating it "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 by demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others."

This language is consistent with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits government representatives (including schools and teachers) from promoting or inhibiting religious expression.

Protecting the persecuted

In a landmark Supreme Court case originating in Santa Fe, Texas, an LDS family and a Catholic family sued the school district over school-sponsored prayers in their children's school. Baptists dominated the school culture and Baptist students were most frequently called upon to lead the prayers. The school had recently fired a teacher who had handed out literature about a Baptist event and then told an LDS student that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was "a cult."

Baptists in Santa Fe were divided on the 2000 school prayer issue. Historically, Baptists have been among the strongest defenders of the separation of church and state in the U.S. They, too, have suffered religious persecution, when living in communities dominated by Catholics and Mainline Protestants such as Lutherans and Presbyterians.

According to 2000 census data, Evangelical Christians (including Baptists) comprise a 64.4 percent majority in Texas. Catholics comprise 21 percent, Mainline Protestants make up 8.1 percent and Mormons represent less than 1 percent of the population in Texas.

Gretchen Krebs has taught general and special education in New York and Utah. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to meet the needs of all students. Contact her at gkrebs@deseretnews.com

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