TX ‘Theocrat’ seeks school indoctrination while Okla. ‘Secularist’ protects secular schools 

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Our “Theocrat of the Week” is pushing for religion in the Texas school curriculum while our “Secularist of the Week” is opposing creeping religious policies in Oklahoma’s public schools.  

House Bill 1425 sailed through the Oklahoma Senate in April with a landslide 38-7 vote and narrowly passed the Oklahoma House last week with a 51-40 vote, with Gov. Kevin Stitt signing the bill this week. The legislation mandates that every public school board in Oklahoma must create a policy for students to attend off-site religious classes during school hours. Students will be excused for up to three class periods per week, with a maximum of 125 periods per year, to attend courses on religious or moral instruction taught by independent entities. What is especially outrageous is that students will receive school credit for these indoctrinational classes. 

Oklahoma state Rep. Andy Fugate was one of the vocal opponents of the bill during the House debate. Fugate, representing Oklahoma’s 94th District, argued that HB 1425 takes away from classroom instruction time and requires the state to award course credit for classes with no established curricula that its schools do not offer. Every other elective offered for credit has a state-established curriculum. Fugate also charged that the religious instruction would be like sending students to year-round vacation bible school and, importantly, will not improve test scores in subjects such as reading, history, math or science. He maintained that state legislators should have faith in the ability of parents and churches to ensure that children receive the moral and religious guidance they deem necessary. Any religious organization could create an after-school program that offers religious instruction, but instead, legislators want to ensure students are proselytized to during their school days. Fugate warned that the legislation will “turn Monday school into Sunday school.” 

Unfortunately, our “Theocrat of the Week” is a noteworthy proponent of the movement to instill Christianity into schools nationwide. Appointed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency Mike Morath recently oversaw a new elementary school curriculum proposal designed to draw connections between classroom content and various religious texts. Morath claimed that the curriculum shifts toward a “classical, broad-based liberal arts education” from a previous skills-based curriculum. 

The new curriculum will inject biblical content into Texas public classrooms. For example, the curriculum will have lessons on Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and the “Gospel of Matthew,” which explores Jesus’ crucifixion and its atonement for human sin. The curriculum also pairs excerpts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” with a biblical story, failing entirely to convey the essence of King’s letter, in which he famously complains about segregated churches and asks: “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?” The sheer amount of references to Christianity and how it is framed in the curriculum are cause for concern.

Mark Chancey, a Southern Methodist University professor who studies movements to put the bible in public schools, says, “The question is going to be whether these materials teach about religion, or whether they cross the line into giving religious instruction.” Chancey also remarks: “Sometimes the legitimate reason of cultural literacy is used as a smokescreen to hide religious and ideological agendas.”

Texas opted for an $84 million contract with the Boston-based Public Consulting Group to update the curriculum. Alongside the Boston firm, the state offered two contracts to Texas Public Policy Foundation officials. One of the officials is a vocal opponent of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” initiatives, and the foundation reportedly called the Texas’ Ten Commandments bill an “important step in bringing faith-based values back to the forefront of our society.”

The curriculum is available for public viewing and feedback and will be voted on in November. If approved by the State Board of Education, it will be available for schools to roll out in August of next year. Schools will not be required to use the updated curriculum but will be incentivized with $60 per student in extra funding. Clearly, schools will be monetarily motivated to adopt the new curriculum, and Christian nationalists will be closer to achieving their goal of making Christianity integral to public schools.

Texas State Board of Education Chairman Aaron Kinsey underscored that this is the ultimate goal for the GOP, especially in Texas. At the Texas GOP Convention in late May, Kinsey gave a speech where he professed that through his position, he will work to advance Republican beliefs in Texas schools and oppose Critical Race Theory, “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives or “whatever acronym the left comes up with next.” Kinsey continued, “You have a chairman who will fight for these three letter words: G-O-D, G-O-P AND U-S-A.” 

With our “Theocrat of the Week” and the right-wing backers supporting Texas’ new elementary school curriculum, we desperately need advocates like our “Secularist of the Week.” Secular education needs to be protected more than ever — and FFRF Action Fund will continue to celebrate the state legislators who continually fight for public education. 

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.