In a narrow vote, the Texas State Board of Education on Friday approved a controversial resolution that calls for the rejection of textbooks that are “pro-Islamic, anti-Christian.”
The resolution passed in a 7-6 vote during a reportedly contentious meeting. Although the resolution has no impact on current standards, it sends a warning to publishers that Texas – the nation’s second largest textbook market – will reject all schoolbooks that are favorably biased toward Islam while painting Christianity in an unfavorable light.
“This resolution will ensure upfront that potential biases are taken care of before these books reach the board,” said board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, according to the Dallas Morning News.
On Friday, the 13 member panel – two were absent – considered a resolution authored by Randy Rives, who is not a board member, which would prevent future Texas social studies textbooks from containing religious bias, specifically between Islam and Christianity.
Rives, in the resolution, cited lines from textbooks used more than half a decade ago to prove his argument. Muslims were described as “empire builders” while Crusaders were labeled as “violent attackers,” the resolution pointed out.
Other critical allegations include one against the “sanitized” wording that some textbooks use in defining jihad, which reportedly exclude religious intolerance and aggression against non-Muslims, and “whitewashes” Islamic culture.
But board member Lawrence Allen, a practicing Muslim, said Friday that the allegations are “baseless” and the resolution is “unfair,” according to Agence France-Presse.
Meanwhile, fellow board member Rick Agosto commented, “This makes us look cuckoo. It’s crazy.”
“We are allowing ourselves to be distracted by this narrow-minded resolution, which is itself biased. We should have taken the higher ground on this.”
Texas Freedom Network – a group that seeks to counter the religious right on issues of religious freedom and individual liberties – accused the drafter of the resolution of ignoring sections of the textbooks that focus on Christianity. Current textbooks, the network argued, include passages on the Reformation, Christian influences during the Renaissance, the Holy Roman Empire, and church reform, among other topics that the resolution failed to mention.
Rives' resolution, however, dealt with previous textbooks, not currently adopted ones.
The group pointed out that the textbooks cited by the resolution are no longer used in Texas classrooms and have not been since 2003. But proponents of the resolution say they are using old textbooks to make a point and try to prevent such books from being used in Texas classrooms in the future.
“It is hard not to conclude that the members who voted for this resolution were solely interested in playing on fear and bigotry in order to pit Christians against Muslims,” said Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, in a statement Friday.
“This is the 21st century. Education is more important than ever for the future success of our children. Yet board members continue to ignore sound scholarship and mire themselves in every hot button political issue they can find,” she said as she slammed supporters of the resolution.
Jonathan Saenz, attorney for Liberty Institute, rejected Miller's arguments.
He told board members, "The board is doing the right thing to have a resolution before them ... to send a message to publishers to prevent any type of religious discrimination or [treatment of a] particular religion in a way that's not complete."
For the Texas State Board of Education, controversies are nothing new. The SBOE was involved in an even bigger controversy earlier this year over overhauling its social studies curriculum. In May, the SBOE approved new social studies courses that emphasized the role of Christianity in society, government and history. The move drew criticisms from opponents, who accused board members of putting political and religious ideologies ahead of children’s education.
The impact of the SBOE’s decisions is expected to be felt nationwide. Publishers usually cater to the textbook demands of the larger states and offer those schoolbooks to students in smaller states. Texas is the second-largest textbook market in the country, behind California.