SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS: COUNTERING THE FUNDAMENTALISTS
by Frank Prahl
Within the past decade, Texas Governor. Mark White, with the
help of Ross Perot, replaced a fundamentalist dominated state
school board with one dominated by educators. Their first action
was to start putting evolution back into textbooks and discour-
raging creationism. We thought we had won the war -- or was it
just a battle?
With the Religious Right dominating the White House and the
GOP for the past twelve years and no accountability for church
tax-free revenues, organized religion has been able to turn the
media, and much public opinion, to their ideology. Creationism
has again been steadily regaining acceptance in our schools partly
because of our own apathy.
During our last school board election, a "Christian Values"
slate of candidates was running. Among their pledges was one to
put creationism back in science classes as a competing theory. I
couldn't just sit by and let them win because of voter apathy,
their greatest ally.
The first thing I did was to write the following letter to
the local newspaper:
Is the 'Christian Values' slate of Kerry Graham, Larry
Maxwell and Robert Andrews running for positions on a public
school board or Sunday school? The positions being taken by
this school board slate should frighten all who do not
support their extremist religious views. This slate has the
public endorsement of Harris County GOP Executive Committee
leader Dr. Steven Hotze, who is on record as wanting to
rebuild American government and society into a system
strictly based on biblical law (Houston Post, 12/27/92, A1,
'GOP's Hotze wants biblical law as basis for government').
To frighten you even more is the knowledge that this slate is
getting direction and support from such national organiza-
tions as Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, Phillis
Schlafly's Eagle Forum, Don Wildmon's American Family
Association, Terry Randall's Operation Rescue, Tim LaHaye's
Creation Science Research Institute and the religious right
Citizens for Excellence in Education, to name a few, and you
still think this a local election? These organizations have
combined their efforts nationally to elect their people to
school boards and other minor offices throughout the country
to take advantage of voter apathy. Traditionally, school
board elections have very low voter turnout. Fundamentalist
churches are much better at turning out their people to vote
for their agenda than are general candidates and therefore
win more often than they lose. We must not allow PISD to
fall victim to this national effort.
To make matters worse, their religious agenda would bring a
number of lawsuits the district can ill afford. Even the
present, conservative U.S. Supreme Court still upholds the
three-part Lemon test and the agenda of this slate would
violate all three tests! The move to teach creationism as
science has been struck down by the courts time after time,
mostly recently in Louisiana and Arkansas. Orchestrated
prayer in schools have received the same fate, even more
This 'Christian Values' slate will only mean trouble for PISD
should they be elected. With all the other good candidates
running, we should be able to elect a board more interested
in education than religion. We cannot afford to turn the
school board over to this fringe group. Please vote.
Why did I write such a letter? First, to emphasize the
difference between public and parochial schools; Second, to raise
the awareness of the ultimate goals of these fringe candidates;
third, to show how well organized and financed the movement, by
these religion-backed groups, really is; fourth, exposing the
ultimate cost to the schools if these candidates win and fifth, to
show that even school board elections are important. I'm not
sure how effective the letter was, but 90% of the letters-to-the-
editor following publication of mine were favorable and the entire
slate lost by a two-to-one margin in a record voter turnout.
I also attended three of the four forums attended by these
candidates. In addition to asking a question about their
religious agenda, I gave considerable literature to their
opponents to help them argue their points. Several were very
grateful and admitted they knew little of the "Christian Values"
slate's ultimate agenda or backing.
Explaining the real meaning of some terms these candidates
used helped defuse the issue. "Parental involvement", a term much
touted by them, means that each parent should have the right to
review a book before it is used to teach their own child, lest it
suggest something not in agreement with their religious dogma.
Also, the courts have declared that the term "creationist" implied
a creator, and was thus a religious concept. To get around that,
Creationist lawyer Wendell Bird invented the euphemism "abrupt
appearance theory" and another group, associated with the
Texas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics has come up with
"intelligent design theory." The arguments haven't changed, only
What can we do, either collectively or individually, to slow
or reverse this trend? First, you can write lots of letters to
editors of all papers. Don't forget the small local papers. They
are read and very easy to get published in. They also accept
longer letters. The shorter the letter, though, the better chance
you have of getting your letter published in the larger papers.
Creationism is just the tip of the iceberg in the religious
right agenda. World population control, censorship, women's
rights, abortion, gay rights, are all strongly opposed by this
group. Don't forget to remind others of this fact. Make it an
acceptable topic in any casual conversation. As I said in two of
my published letters, "These issues will not even begin to get
solved until is becomes as popular to criticize religion and the
clergy as we now criticize government and politicians."
If you have communications with science teachers. encourage
them to speak up for evolution and ignore creationism in private
conversations. If they are doing it backwards, make it known to
board officials and the public at large (letters again).
Many scientists are intimidated by the probability of
offending someone's religious beliefs and do not speak out against
pseudoscience. Intimidation is the greatest tool organized
religion has to impede scientific investigation and discovery.
The pseudoscience of creationism is finally being taken out of
many schools texts, due mostly to the many scientists and teachers
who did speak out. Now let's hear from the historians,
geologists, philosophers, etc. who find old theories and accounts
false in light of new discoveries. It's time we stop avoiding
controversy by accommodating the lowest common denominator because
we "might offend someone's religious beliefs."
To make sportsmanship a rule, in its battle against science,
religion would have to become science. Enter Scientific
Creationism. This argument is based on "fairness", but science
doesn't work on fairness; it works on merit, a fact that needs to
be argued in everyday conversations.
Local access cable is a wild card in the media and
"scientific creationists" use it. Local access cable provides
virtually unedited time to anyone who shows up with a tape, and
reports indicate that "scientific creationists" use it as much as
Another area is to attack their money supply. Churches were
given a special tax exemption, a subsidy, to keep them out of the
political area. Numerous church groups, such as the Christian
Coalition, are demonstrating that they have no intention of
staying out of politics. They are increasingly using that subsidy
to finance lobbying activities and elections for their political
agenda. Isn't it time to talk openly about ending these subsidies
to those groups involved in or financially supporting political
Only by exposing the driving forces behind the efforts of
implementing the religious right agenda can we motivate people to
talk about causes of such problems. In short, we must start our
own "whisper campaign" to enlighten the general public on the
religious right agenda, particularly as it affects our schools and
the next generation. I have always heard that it is not proper to
talk about religion and politics in casual conversation. I'm sure
that notion was planted by organized religion so they would not be
One must remember that religion is not a short term
phenomena; it has long term goals, often several generations
ahead. The only way a democratic society can cope with such long
term efforts, is through long term education and fighting
censorship at all levels. I helped win this battle, but they will
be back again for the next election. So will I.
This is the condensed text of a talk given to the Houston
Association for Scientific Thinking (HAST) on 2-19-93. Its author
is a field developer for the American Humanist Association and is
coordinator of the AHA's Mid-South region.
(C) Copyright 1993 by Frank Prahl
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