The Texas State Board of Education is scheduled to consider a resolution Friday that would ban “pro-Islamic, anti-Christian” textbooks.
Randy Rives, who authored the resolution, contends some past Texas social studies textbooks were favorably biased toward Islam – devoting more text lines to the religion than Christianity and praising Muslims as “empire builders” while criticizing Crusaders as “violent attackers.”
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.
“There’s a problem. There’s bias in the books,” said board member Don McLeroy, who supports the resolution, according to the Houston Chronicles. “We need to bring attention to it.”
According to the draft resolution, the State Board of Education (SBOE) is being called to enforce “the basic democratic values of our state and national heritage” and to reject “future prejudicial” social studies textbooks that treats the world’s major religions unequally in space coverage or by “demonizing” one over the other.
SBOE Chairwoman Gail Lowe said she has received about 30 letters and e-mails about the resolution, with all except one supporting it.
But, elsewhere, the resolution has sparked strong reaction from opponents, who accuse it of spreading misinformation and promoting religious intolerance.
In a news conference Monday, an interfaith group in Austin, Texas, released an open letter signed by nearly 100 religious leaders asking SBOE’s 15 member panel to reject the “inflammatory” resolution.
“We believe this resolution is a thinly veiled attempt to generate fear and promote religious intolerance, which as we have sadly seen before in history, can quickly lead to violence,” the letter states. “And we ask you to keep this sort of bigotry out of the headlines – and out of our textbooks – in Texas.”
Some of the signers of the open letter include the Rev. Larry Bethune, senior pastor at University Baptist Church in Austin; the Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones, district superintendent of the Austin District of the United Methodist Church; and Rabbi Neil Blumofe of the Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin.
News conference organizer Texas Freedom Network – a group that seeks to counter the religious right on issues of religious freedom and individual liberties – reviewed the textbooks and accused the drafter of the resolution of ignoring sections of the textbooks that focus on Christianity. It says the textbooks 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.
The group also points 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.
Texas Freedom Network also argues that its analysis shows the resolution to be based on claims that are “superficial” and “grossly misleading.”
“This resolution is another example of state board members putting politics ahead of expertise and refusing to consider the advice of real scholars before doing something provocative and divisive,” states the network, which strongly opposed new public school curriculum standards for social studies courses that were approved earlier this year.
Critics also highlight that resolution drafter Randy Rives offers no evidence to back up his claim that Middle Eastern investors in the U.S. public school textbook “oligopoly” will lead to “more such discriminatory treatment of religion.”
Notably, Rives, a former Ector (Odessa) Independent School District board president, is not on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). He ran for a seat on the board in the Republican primary but lost.
The Muslim-Christian bias in textbooks is the latest controversy involving the Texas State Board of Education. In May, the SBOE approved new social studies courses that emphasized the role of Christianity in society, government and history. Opponents of the overhaul argue that the revisions promote religious and political ideologies, emphasizing that conservative Christians were the force behind the changes.
Texas’ textbook debates tend to attract national attention because the state’s decision will likely impact the rest of the nation. Texas is the second-largest textbook market in the country, behind California.