Group of Texas clergy denounce textbook resolution

AUSTIN -- Leaders of an interfaith group that includes Christians, Jews and Muslims urged the State Board of Education on Monday to abandon what they called an "inflammatory" resolution that purportedly documents an anti-Christian, pro-Islamic bias in world history textbooks.

The resolution, which is expected to come before the board Friday, is threatening to entangle the board in a new controversy after a series of "culture war" debates that has brought national attention to the 15-member panel. Critics have accused social conservatives on the board of trying to inject their philosophy into textbooks and classrooms.

Chairwoman Gail Lowe of Lampasas said the resolution is on the agenda but added that she doesn't "have a clue" about the outcome. Lowe, who would vote only in the case of a tie, said she supports the concept of the resolution. She said she has received about 30 letters and e-mails on the issue, all but one of which supported the resolution.

Board member Pat Hardy of Fort Worth said the resolution is worthy of consideration at some point, but not while the board struggles with a state funding crisis that threatens the purchase of new textbooks.

"We've got an issue of whether we're even going to have textbooks again," Hardy said. The resolution, she said, "is worthy of keeping on the back burner, but I don't think we need it on the front burner right now."

Written by an unsuccessful school board candidate, the resolution would seek to restrain publishers from printing textbooks that display a favorable tilt toward Islam and a bias against Christianity. Citing examples, the resolution contends that world history textbooks once used in Texas classrooms gave more favorable attention to Islam and comparatively less to Christianity.

Accusation of bigotry

But four leaders of an interfaith group -- two Protestant ministers, a Jewish rabbi and an Islamic imam -- held a news conference Monday to denounce the claims as either false or deeply misleading. They also released an "open letter" signed by 97 other religious figures urging the board to reject the 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 says. "And we ask you to keep this sort of bigotry out of the headlines -- and out of our textbooks -- in Texas."

Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs for the Liberty Institute, said his organization believes that the resolution raises legitimate questions and should be considered. He also accused the religious leaders of displaying "a double standard" by engaging in the issue after repeatedly speaking out on behalf of the separation of church and state.

Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger of Fort Worth's Beth-El Congregation, who signed the letter, called the resolution "very slanted." Members of the Islamic community in Fort Worth "care about their country and want to live in peace," he said in a telephone interview. "We can't let the hatemongers at the national level whip us into a frenzy."

'A political ploy'

The resolution was presented to the board by Randy Rives, an Odessa businessman who ran unsuccessfully against board member Bob Craig of Lubbock in the GOP primary. The resolution cites several examples in claiming that textbooks tend to play up Christianity brutality and Muslim loss of life while playing down Islamic cruelty and Christian deaths.

A review by the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes the resolution, disputed the findings, saying the resolution ignores whole sections of textbooks that discuss Christianity. Nearly all world history textbooks used in Texas classroom discuss conquests and atrocities committed by Muslim leaders, the group said.

Kathy Miller, who heads the Freedom Network, called the resolution "a political ploy" that "has nothing to do with the quality of education."

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294