The following letter was sent on July 30 to the Texas State Board of Education.
July 30, 2009
Dear Texas State Board of Education,
As the education coordinator of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center of the American Humanist Association, I am deeply concerned about the social studies standards currently being set in Texas public schools. Recent reports that advisors to the Texas School Board have recommended a new social studies curriculum that would present the United States as having biblical foundations and would minimize our nation’s strong tradition of separation of church and state are troubling.
Speaking as a former elementary school teacher and college professor in the area of curriculum development, I strongly urge you not to adopt such a curriculum, which would not meet vital standards of historical context and accuracy and would do children in Texas public schools a great disservice. Any social studies curriculum that Texas adopts, in order to meet the highest standards of academic excellence and historical accuracy, must refer to America’s secular heritage and our tradition of religious pluralism.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and many other patriots believed that our government did not ground itself in Christianity or the Christian bible, but rather the United States Constitution, a secular document. In fact, nowhere in the Constitution is there a single mention of Christianity, God, Jesus or any Supreme Being. There are only two references to religion and both use exclusionary wording: the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” and Article VI,
Section 3 says that “… no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
With regard to America’s tradition of religious pluralism, we need only look at the abundance of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and shrines throughout the country to see the positive effects that a secular society divorced from religion has on religious freedom and diversity. Pluralism has always been an important strand in the United States’ history and character, and the religious landscape has always been dynamic and diverse. As President Barack Obama recently stated, “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslin nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” President Obama’s words are not only relevant for today, but speak truth to the United States’ respect
for pluralistic religion and belief that was established at our country’s founding.
We believe that it is important to teach about the significance of religion in history and society. But when that subject is taught, it should be taught in an objective and unbiased way. Fortunately, there are organizations which have resources for teaching about religion at all grade levels. I call your attention to OABITAR (which stands for “Objectivity, Accuracy and Balance In Teaching About Religion”), and I strongly urge the developers of social studies standards in Texas to become familiar with the 36 lesson plans in their web site—which, as
they state, are committed to “national pluralism.” Two of the outstanding curriculum resources are “The Bill of Rights Is For Us Today” and “Different Drummers: Nonconforming Thinkers in History.” I also urge you to study their six position statements, the last of which states, “Teaching about religion in public education needs to serve the interests of a pluralistic society, preparing students to meet with aplomb the full spectrum of religious and nonreligious diversity within the public realm.”
We would, of course, be very pleased to discuss our position with you further and to work with you in any way we can to assure that all students in your state receive a balanced, objective and comprehensive historical perspective.
Robert D. Bhaerman, Ed. D.
Coordinator, Kochhar Humanist Education Center
American Humanist Association