A Texas Republican (Who Else?) Thinks Schools Need Mandatory Bible Reading

Hey, you know what will help teens avoid pregnancy? Comprehensive sex education, right?

Nah.

Here’s Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Republican in the Texas state house:

What I think is that that’s unconstitutional. Apparently many other readers of Rep. Riddle’s Facebook page thought so too, and told her in no uncertain terms, because she followed up with this:

OK, enough already. My friend Mary – a teacher – not as conservative as I am – has mentioned how many of her students have no foundation of faith and are having babies at 15 – plus so many more problems. She has stated that with no foundation of faith these kids are a drift [sic]. Knowing how sensative [sic] folks are about prayer and ect. [sic] I thought a simple reading of Proverbs – a book of wisdom – would be helpful. I certainly did not intend to offend – I was just throwing out an idea.

She then waxes Jeremiac (I made that word up) about “the level of disrespect in today’s world” (as opposed to yesterday’s world, when rather than posting a mean comment on someone’s Facebook, you challenged them to a duel and possibly killed them) and the importance of “open discussion” (except, apparently, when people disagree with you).

Several things.

1. Apparently you don’t have to understand basic grammar, spelling, and writing style in order to be elected to public office. Seriously, I know this is a nitpicky point compared to the rest of what I’m about to cover, but most of us learned to spell “sensitive” in elementary school.

And to think that Riddle wants to take time out of every school day to read Proverbs. Clearly, there are more pressing problems with Texas education.

2. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Republicans seem to only focus on the second part of that inconvenient part of the First Amendment: “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But that first part is pretty damn important. Our Supreme Court has determined that forcing children to observe religion in public schools violates the establishment clause. In Engel v. Vitale (1962), school-mandated prayer was struck down; in Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), school-mandated Bible reading was struck down as well.

So, although Riddle has now had nearly 40 years to get used to the latter ruling, she apparently has failed to do so. And no, school prayer was not “tossed” because it’s not “politically correct,” but because it violates our Constitution. There’s a difference.

3. Jesus does not prevent teen pregnancy. Comprehensive sex ed does. It also does a lot of other cool stuff, like help prevent STI transmission and sexual assault, but that’s besides the point.

Here’s another interesting thing. According to Gallup, the most religious state in the U.S. is Mississippi. According to the CDC, the state with the highest teenage birthrate is…Mississippi.

Awkward.

Even supposing that this is a fluke, it’s a well-known fact that other states with high levels of religiosity tend to have high rates of teenage pregnancy and birth, as well. Of course, this is all correlation and not causation–except for the fact that religious states tend to have abstinence-only sex ed, which does not work.

Now, Rep. Riddle’s friend Mary, who is of course a credible source because she is “not as  conservative” than Riddle (and because this isn’t anecdotal at all) claims that it’s specifically the godless heathens who are getting themselves pregnant. Leaving aside the question of how Mary manages to divine the religious beliefs and observance level of her students–and avoid confirmation bias–the information I have just presented about teenage birthrates in religious states seems to refute her point. Why would nonreligious teens only get pregnant en masse in religious states, but not in nonreligious states? And if they do, what does that say about the environment these states create?

4. The United States was not “built on Christian and Jewish values.” While most of the Founding Fathers identified at least nominally with Christianity, that does not mean that they based the entire nation upon it. Many of them were either deists or anti-clerical Christians, so it’s hard to imagine them supporting state-mandated religious observance. Historian Gregg L. Frazer, meanwhile, argues that the Founding Fathers subscribed to a belief system he calls “theistic rationalism,” which combines religion with reason (a feature mostly lacking in Christian fundamentalism).

Interestingly enough, despite our nation’s supposed “Christian foundation,” the Constitution contains not one mention of the words “God” or “Christianity.” The only time it uses the word “religion” is in the First Amendment, which provides for freedom of–and from–it.

On a side note, can we stop lumping Judaism in with Christianity? These two religions are really quite different. And to suggest that anyone had the Jews in mind when establishing the United States is simply laughable, given how long it took for institutionalized antisemitism to find its way out of our country.

5. Proverbs is hardly the harmless book of “wisdom” Riddle thinks it is. Here are some quotations:

  • “Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.” (Proverbs 20:30)
  • “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)
  • “Give beer to those who are perishing and wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” (Proverbs 31:6-7)

The first two certainly make sense given the Texas GOP platform‘s ringing endorsement of corporal punishment. As for the latter, I was under the impression that religious Republicans think that people who drink alcohol when they’re under 21 are sinners too.

Overall, an admittedly cursory reading of Proverbs reveals it to be mostly gibberish. I can think of many better things to require schoolchildren to read if you want to teach them about wisdom and morality. I’m personally a huge fan of Nietzsche. But you’re free to disagree.

Also, the idea of Nietzsche ever being taught in a Texas public school is sadly unlikely.

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I Read the Texas Republican Party Platform So You Wouldn’t Have To

The Republican Party of Texas recently released its 2012 platform, a 23-page document that I decided to read because there isn’t enough misery in my life, apparently.

This document is stunning even by Republican standards (sorry, Republicans). I will outline some of its most preposterous points here. (Note, however, that the preposterousness is by no means limited to what I’m including in this post.) Section-by-section, here it is. If you need alcohol, I suggest drinking each time they invoke God as the basis of their policies.

“Preserving American Freedom”

  • “We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act. We strongly oppose the listing of the dune sage brush lizard either as a threatened or an endangered species. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished.” I don’t know about the status of the dune sage brush lizard in particular, but I do know that a world without the EPA would be a pretty terrible world. I mean, unless you want polluted air and water, uncontrolled pesticide sales, etc.
  • “We oppose this act [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] through which the federal government would coerce religious business owners and employees to violate their own beliefs and principles by affirming what they consider to be sinful and sexually immoral behavior.” What a drastically stupid misunderstanding of ENDA. Nobody’s asking anybody to “affirm” anything. They’re simply asking employers to stay out of their employees’ bedrooms.
  • “We urge Congress to adopt the Constitutional Restoration Act and support the principle of judicial restraint, which requires judges to interpret and apply rather than make the law. We support judges who strictly interpret the law based on its original intent.” I am reminded of a particularly humorous New Yorker cover. I can easily see why these reactionaries take such an issue with judicial activism, as that’s what brought us reproductive rights, desegregated schools, and other such horrid things.
  • “We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965 codified and updated in 1973 be repealed and not reauthorized.” Let me rewrite this part of your platform for you: “We support the disenfranchisement of African Americans and the poor while pretending that that’s not what we’re really doing.”
  • “Any form of desecration of the American Flag is an act of disregard for our nation and its people and penalties should be established for such.” Wait, what was the title of this section again? “Preserving American Freedom”? That First Amendment is just so inconvenient sometimes.

“Strengthening Families, Protecting Life and Promoting Health”

  • “We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment only between a natural man and a natural woman, which is the foundational unit of a healthy society, and we oppose the assault on marriage by judicial activists.” What is a “natural man”? What is a “natural woman”? Do tell.
  • “We urge the Legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws. We support Covenant Marriage.” This means that people will not be able to get divorced without having to prove that at least one person has done something drastically wrong, such as commit adultery or abuse. However, the other person could plead a recrimination defense (“but so did you”). Even if both people have abused or cheated on each other, this means that a divorce may not be granted.
  • “We support the affirmation of traditional Judeo-Christian family values and oppose the continued assault on those values.” I got nothin’.
  • “We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God….” Thou doth protest too much.
  • “All innocent human life must be respected and safeguarded from fertilization to natural death; therefore, the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”From fertilization. This means that an egg which has just united with a sperm is a Human Being and that all abortions would be illegal, in direct contradiction to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. And, because emergency contraception such as Plan B can work after fertilization has taken place, this, too, would be banned.
  • Aaaand who called it. “We oppose sale and use of the dangerous ‘Morning After Pill.’” It is not dangerous. Who just makes statements like these without backing them up with evidence? (Texas Republicans, obviously.)
  • “We strongly support a Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” I LOL’ed.
  • “We unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.” That’s correct, parents have rights but children do not. Among other things, then, the Texas GOP opposes the protection of children from abuse and exploitation, their right to have a relationship with both parents even if the parents have separated, and their right to be free from corporal punishment.
  • “We support eliminating bureaucratic prohibitions on corporal discipline and home schooling in foster homes.” On other words, we support child abuse.
  • “Health care decisions should be between a patient and health care professional and should be protected from government intrusion.” I include this only because of the irony, as the platform unilaterally supports government intrusion into healthcare decisions whenever they involve a woman’s reproductive parts.
  • “All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine.” Thereby destroying herd immunity and bringing back lethal, crippling diseases. Makes sense.

“Educating Our Children”

  • “We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups.” In other words, we favor imposing our culture onto others because our culture is The Only Correct Culture.
  • “We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.” Corporal punishment is not effective and should not be legal. Dozens of studies conducted by Evil Un-American Scientists suggest this.
  • “We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced.” I suppose that’s better than not teaching them at all, but there is such a thing as scientific consensus. Evolution and man-made global warming, to use the non-euphemistic terms, are not controversial among the people who are educated enough to study them. They are only controversial among the uninformed.
  • “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” Guys, I don’t know how else to say this: they literally oppose thinking. They oppose producing citizens who are capable of critically evaluating information and ideas. They support producing citizens who do what they’re told because God/Pop said so.
  • “We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until marriage.” Congratulations, you support a scientifically discredited form of sex ed.
  • “We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal, political and economic systems.” Okay first of all, stop it with this term “Judeo-Christian.” Most Jews do not want our faith roped into this bullshittery. Second, newsflash, not everybody in the United States (or even in Texas) is Jewish or Christian. Deal with it.
  • “Since education is not an enumerated power of the federal government, we believe the Department of Education (DOE) should be abolished.” Oh vey.

“Promoting Individual Freedom and Personal Safety”

  • “We oppose the monitoring of gun ownership, and the taxation and regulation of guns and ammunition.” *barf* *yawn*
  • “We urge immediate repeal of the Hate Crimes Law.” I don’t even know which law this is talking about and I can’t find out, but on the whole, hate crimes are pretty bad.
  • “We support the Boy Scouts of America and reject any attempt to undermine or fundamentally change the ideals of the organization.” Yo why is this in here?
  • “We believe a person who injures or kills an unborn child should be subject to criminal and civil litigation.” So, a woman who has a miscarriage?

“Strengthening the Economy”

  • “We recommend repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with the goal of abolishing the I.R.S and replacing it with a national sales tax collected by the States.” So how are they going to afford all that intrusion into Americans’ bedrooms? Not to mention the foreign wars? That’s what I want to know.
  • “We support immediate resumption of deep water drilling and production in the Gulf of Mexico.” Because that worked out great last time.
  • “We oppose the abusive use of class action lawsuits.” This would be…what, exactly?
  • “We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed.” This certainly needs no comment.

“Defending Sovereignty At Home and Abroad”

  • “We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of U.N. headquarters from U.S. soil.” I’m not a huge fan of the UN for various reasons, but there needs to be some sort of authority that at least attempts to keep the interests of the entire world in mind.
  • “To protect our serviceman and women and ensure that America’s Armed Forces remain the best in the world, we affirm the timelessness of those values, the benefits of traditional military culture and the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service.” WHY. Somebody just tell me WHY.
  • On Israel, presented without further comment: “Our policy is based on God’s biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefits of that promise.”

So there you have it. There are certainly sensical and intelligent positions in this platform, too, but they’re mostly common sense. For instance, prosecute child molesters. Provide healthcare to veterans. Allow police officers to find criminals. You know, that sort of thing.

There are also a notable number of direct contradictions in this document. For instance, they say, “We favor improving the quality of education for all students, including those with special needs,” and then they proceed to outline a curriculum that destroys critical thinking. They say that the government should stay out of healthcare decisions, and yet they not only propose to ban all abortion, but they even decry Plan B as “dangerous” (which it is not). They also indicate specifically what information doctors are required (and, of course, not required) to provide about abortion. And, at one point, they even state, “As America is a nation under God founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we affirm the constitutional right of all individuals to worship in the religion of their choice.” This makes no sense! It is exactly because America is not a religious nation that religious freedom is even possible.

Why should you care about a platform advanced by one state’s Republican party? Even supposing all other Republicans in the country are perfectly reasonable and do not oppose things like voting rights for African Americans and critical thinking skills for children (unlikely), Texas is a large state and Republicans outnumber Democrats by a large margin in both houses of the legislature. So this affects a lot of people.

And, furthermore, the platform itself also states, “Every Republican is responsible for implementing this platform. Party candidates should indicate their positions on platform planks before their acceptance on the ticket and such information should be available on the Party website.” So, for all the crap I occasionally get to the tune of “Yeah well not all Republicans are like that” and “Yeah well many Republicans actually support same-sex unions,” well…in Texas, this is exactly how they are.

For more take-downs, see here, here, and here.