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The New York Times brings news that is not new to anyone who reads this blog. A movement is rising to revive Christian domination of public and private life, and it is a movement fueled by racists. It is specifically opposed to the separation of church and state, and it seeks to destroy public education, ban abortion, censor teaching about race and racism, as well as gender and sexuality.

This movement was behind Trump’s election and used this irreligious man as their instrument to gain power and control of the Supreme Court.

The article begins:

Three weeks before he won the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania governor, Doug Mastriano stood beside a three-foot-tall painted eagle statue and declared the power of God.

“Any free people in the house here? Did Jesus set you free?” he asked, revving up the dozens before him on a Saturday afternoon at a Gettysburg roadside hotel.

Mr. Mastriano, a state senator, retired Army colonel and prominent figure in former President Donald J. Trump’s futile efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, was addressing a far-right conference that mixed Christian beliefs with conspiracy theories, called Patriots Arise. Instead of focusing on issues like taxes, gas prices or abortion policy, he wove a story about what he saw as the true Christian identity of the nation, and how it was time, together, for Christians to reclaim political power.

The separation of church and state was a “myth,” he said. “In November we are going to take our state back, my God will make it so.”

Mastriano, the Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, participated in the January 6 Insurrection.

Mr. Mastriano’s ascension in Pennsylvania is perhaps the most prominent example of right-wing candidates for public office who explicitly aim to promote Christian power in America. The religious right has long supported conservative causes, but this current wave seeks more: a nation that actively prioritizes their particular set of Christian beliefs and far-right views and that more openly embraces Christianity as a bedrock identity.

Many dismiss the historic American principle of the separation of church and state. They say they do not advocate a theocracy, but argue for a foundational role for their faith in government. Their rise coincides with significant backing among like-minded grass-roots supporters, especially as some voters and politicians blend their Christian faith with election fraud conspiracy theories, QAnon ideology, gun rights and lingering anger over Covid-related restrictions.

Their presence reveals a fringe pushing into the mainstream.

“The church is supposed to direct the government, the government is not supposed to direct the church,” Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican representing the western part of Colorado, said recently at Cornerstone Christian Center, a church near Aspen. “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk.” Congregants rose to their feet in applause.

Some states may become inhospitable for non-Christians and for Christians who don’t believe in compelling everyone else to worship their way.

The Founding Fathers most certainly believed in separating church and state. They most certainly wanted a secular, non-religious state. They were well aware of the carnage in Europe that resulted from religious wars and persecution. This new nation was meant to be free of state-sponsored religion.

Those who now seek to obliterate the separation of church and state and to impose their religion on others are rejecting the inheritance and wisdom of the Founding Fathers.

Katherine Stewart is an expert on Christian Nationalism who has researched its history, attends their conferences, and writes about their determination to destroy our freedoms. Read her recent book “The Power Worshippers.”

Her latest article in The New York Times reports on their recent dramatic gains.

She writes:

The shape of the Christian nationalist movement in the post-Roe future is coming into view, and it should terrify anyone concerned for the future of constitutional democracy.

The Supreme Court’s decision to rescind the reproductive rights that American women have enjoyed over the past half-century will not lead America’s homegrown religious authoritarians to retire from the culture wars and enjoy a sweet moment of triumph. On the contrary, movement leaders are already preparing for a new and more brutal phase of their assault on individual rights and democratic self-governance. Breaking American democracy isn’t an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. It is the point of the project.

A good place to gauge the spirit and intentions of the movement that brought us the radical majority on the Supreme Court is the annual Road to Majority Policy Conference. At this year’s event, which took place last month in Nashville, three clear trends were in evidence. First, the rhetoric of violence among movement leaders appeared to have increased significantly from the already alarming levels I had observed in previous years. Second, the theology of dominionism — that is, the belief that “right-thinking” Christians have a biblically derived mandate to take control of all aspects of government and society — is now explicitly embraced. And third, the movement’s key strategists were giddy about the legal arsenal that the Supreme Court had laid at their feet as they anticipated the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

They intend to use that arsenal — together with additional weaponry collected in cases like Carson v. Makin, which requires state funding of religious schools if private, secular schools are also being funded; and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which licenses religious proselytizing by public school officials — to prosecute a war on individual rights, not merely in so-called red state legislatures but throughout the nation.

Although metaphors of battle are common enough in political gatherings, this year’s rhetoric appeared more violent, more graphic and more tightly focused on fellow Americans, rather than on geopolitical foes.

“The greatest danger to America is not our enemies from the outside, as powerful as they may be,” said former President Donald Trump, who delivered the keynote address at the event. “The greatest danger to America is the destruction of our nation from the people from within. And you know the people I’m talking about.”

Speakers at the conference vied to outdo one another in their denigration of the people that Mr. Trump was evidently talking about. Democrats, they said, are “evil,” “tyrannical” and “the enemy within,” engaged in “a war against the truth.”

“The backlash is coming,” warned Senator Rick Scott of Florida. “Just mount up and ride to the sounds of the guns, and they are all over this country. It is time to take this country back.”

Citing the fight against Nazi Germany during the Battle of the Bulge, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson of North Carolina said, “We find ourselves in a pitched battle to literally save this nation.” Referencing a passage from Ephesians that Christian nationalists often use to signal their militancy, he added, “I don’t know about you, but I got my pack on, I got my boots on, I got my helmet on, I’ve got on the whole armor.”

It is not a stretch to link this rise in verbal aggression to the disinformation campaign to indoctrinate the Christian nationalist base in the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, along with what we’re learning from the Jan. 6 hearings. The movement is preparing “patriots” for the continuation of the assault on democracy in 2022 and 2024.

The intensification of verbal warfare is connected to shifts in the Christian nationalist movement’s messaging and outreach, which were very much in evidence at the Nashville conference. Seven Mountains Dominionism — the belief that “biblical” Christians should seek to dominate the seven key “mountains” or “molders” of American society, including the government — was once considered a fringe doctrine, even among representatives of the religious right. At last year’s Road to Majority conference, however, there was a breakout session devoted to the topic. This year, there were two sessions, and the once arcane language of the Seven Mountains creed was on multiple speakers’ lips.

The hunger for dominion that appears to motivate the leadership of the movement is the essential context for making sense of its strategy and intentions in the post-Roe world. The end of abortion rights is the beginning of a new and much more personal attack on individual rights.

And indeed it is personal. Much of the rhetoric on the right invokes visions of vigilante justice. This is about “good guys with guns” — or neighbors with good eavesdropping skills — heroically taking on the pernicious behavior of their fellow citizens. Among the principal battlefields will be the fallopian tubes and uteruses of women.

At a breakout session called “Life Is on the Line: What Does the Future of the Pro-Life Movement Look Like From Here?” Chelsey Youman, the Texas state director and national legislative adviser to Human Coalition Action, a Texas-based anti-abortion organization with a national strategic focus, described the connection between vigilantes and abortion rights.

Instead of the state regulating abortion providers, she explained, “You and me as citizens of Texas or this country or wherever we can pass this bill, can instead sue the abortion provider.” Mrs. Youman, as it happens, played a role in promoting the Texas law Senate Bill 8, which passed in May 2021 and allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion. She was exultant over the likely passage of similar laws across the nation. “We have legislation ready to roll out for every single state you live in to protect life regardless of the Supreme Court, regardless of your circuit court.” To be sure, Christian nationalists are also pushing for a federal ban. But the struggle for the present will center on state-level enforcement mechanisms.

Movement leaders have also made it clear that the target of their ongoing offensive is not just in-state abortion providers, but what they call “abortion trafficking” — that is, women crossing state lines to access legal abortions, along with people who provide those women with services or support, like cars and taxis. Mrs. Youman hailed the development of a new “long-arm jurisdiction” bill that offers a mechanism for targeting out-of-state abortion providers. “It creates a wrongful death cause of action,” she said, “so we’re excited about that.”

The National Right to Life Committee’s model legislation for the post-Roe era includes broad criminal enforcement as well as civil enforcement mechanisms. “The model law also reaches well beyond the actual performance of an illegal abortion,” according to text on the organization’s website. It also includes “aiding or abetting an illegal abortion,” targeting people who provide “instructions over the telephone, the internet, or any other medium of communication.”

Mrs. Youman further made clear that Christian nationalists will target the pills used for medication abortions. “Our next big bill is going to make the Heartbeat Act look tame, you guys; they’re going to freak out!” she said. “It’s designed specifically to siphon off these illegal pills.”

Americans who stand outside the movement have consistently underestimated its radicalism. But this movement has been explicitly antidemocratic and anti-American for a long time.

It is also a mistake to imagine that Christian nationalism is a social movement arising from the grassroots and aiming to satisfy the real needs of its base. It isn’t. This is a leader-driven movement. The leaders set the agenda, and their main goals are power and access to public money. They aren’t serving the interests of their base; they are exploiting their base as a means of exploiting the rest of us.

Christian nationalism isn’t a route to the future. Its purpose is to hollow out democracy until nothing is left but a thin cover for rule by a supposedly right-thinking elite, bubble-wrapped in sanctimony and insulated from any real democratic check on its power.

A woman driving in the HOV lane in Dallas was given a ticket because she didn’t have a passenger. She told the police officer that she was 34 weeks pregnant, and her unborn child was a second person. He ticketed her.

A pregnant Texas woman who was ticketed for driving in the HOV lane suggested that Roe v. Wade being overturned by the Supreme Court means that her fetus counted as a passenger, and that she should not have been cited.
Brandy Bottone was recently driving down Central Expressway in Dallas when she was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy at an HOV checkpoint to see whether there were at least two occupants per vehicle as mandated. When the sheriff looked around her car last month, she recounted to The Washington Post that he asked, “Is it just you or is someone else riding with you?”
“I said, ‘Oh, there’s two of us,’” Bottone said. “And he said, ‘Where?’”
Bottone, who was 34 weeks pregnant at the time, pointed to her stomach. Even though she said her “baby girl is right here,” Bottone said one of the deputies she encountered on June 29 told her it had to be “two bodies outside of the body.” While the state’s penal code recognizes a fetus as a person, the Texas Transportation Code does not.
“One officer kind of brushed me off when I mentioned this is a living child, according to everything that’s going on with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. ‘So I don’t know why you’re not seeing that,’ I said,” she explained to the Dallas Morning News, the first to report the story.
Bottone was issued a $215 ticket for driving alone in the two-or-more occupant lane — a citation she told local media she’d be challenging in court this month.
“I will be fighting it,” Bottone, 32, of Plano, Tex., said to The Post.

Mercedes Schneider writes in this post about two ministers whom she heard on the radio. One spoke mockingly about separation of church and state. The other spoke about the importance of overcoming division. Mercedes transcribed their speeches. In this post, she focuses on the calming words of the second minister. And she helpfully reminds us of the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Ninth Amendment undercuts the cramped views of the Supreme Court’s reactionary majority, which has claimed that the rights not listed (“enumerated”) in the Constitution do not exist.

The Ninth Amendment says:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Schneider begins:

I did a double-take on the idea that there is an organized push to enable states to formally declare Christianity as an official state religion. That’s what this is: A far-right attempt to pee on the telephone pole of America, thereby marking it “for Christians only” and further exacerbating division in our country In the Name of Jesus.

I write this as a Christian: Such efforts stoke self-righteous egos and sow dangerous discord.

So, as I was flipping channels on my TV on July 03, 2022, hearing a Southern Baptist pastor mockingly use the phrase “separation of church and state” caught my attention. Sure enough, the point of his sermon was to promote a return to Christianity as the established religion on the state-level.

I recorded his sermon and transcribed it in order to write about it on this blog in a future post (not this one). It is a harsh, hard, self-centered promotion that I have some more work on editing and proofing prior to posting.

The point of this post is to present the words of another pastor, one I heard as I was recovering from the awfulness of transcribing the harsh, self-absorbed guy. This second pastor, Andy Stanley, who founded North Point Ministries in Atlanta, has a refreshingly different message, which he happened to deliver on the same day (July 03, 2022), and which shows that not all Christian pastors with major platforms are buying into the terrible divisiveness of some state-by-state, Christain Nationalism.

Keep reading. You will find this post of great interest.

Samuel Abrams, Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization, noticed a curious omission in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that required Maine to fund two evangelical religious schools. There was no mention of what other nations do. Some European nations fully fund religious schools. But they regulate them! Choice zealots here want religious schools to get public funds without any public oversight. None.

He writes:

In tandem with its reversal of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court stands to substantially alter everyday life in America with its recent decisions of ­Carson v. Makin, amplifying its support for public funding of religious schools, and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, allowing prayer in public schools.

The significance of Kennedy is blunt. With the Court ruling 6-3 along party lines that the dismissal of a football coach at a public high school in the state of Washington for holding post-game prayer meetings violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, we can expect similar meetings as well as Bible study sessions, nativity pageants, and the like in public schools across the country. Such events will surely lead some students to feel coerced into participating for fear of disappointing peers and authority figures. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor indeed noted that a lower court had determined that some players said they joined the coach’s prayer meetings “because they felt social pressure to follow their coach and teammates.”

The significance of Carson is more subtle but equally profound. In Carson, the same justices ruled 6-3—as forecasted on this site following oral arguments in December—that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from partaking in its Town Tuitioning Program likewise violated the right to free exercise of religion. This program covers all or part of the cost for students in rural districts without high schools to attend either public or nonsectarian private high schools in nearby districts or beyond (if the school is public, the total cost is covered; if it is private, coverage is pegged to per-pupil statewide average spending). With this decision, we can expect religious groups in considerably rural states across the country to lobby legislators to create programs similar to Maine’s.

But there’s another dimension to Carson, which derives as much from what it did not say as from what it did. To grasp the wider implications of Carson requires understanding what is missing from the decision.

While many countries—such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands—have for many years allowed a considerable portion of their students to attend religious schools with public funding, the Court did not cite such foreign practice. In the Netherlands, in fact, 55 percent of students attend religious schools with public funding.

Why then didn’t the Court cite foreign practice? This indifference to foreign practice holds, as well, for the majority opinions in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002, validating the provision of government-funded vouchers to cover tuition at religious schools in Cleveland, and Espinoza et al. v. Montana Department of Revenue in 2020, mandating that if a state permits students to attend private schools with scholarships funded by a tuition tax-credit program, it cannot bar religious schools from participation.

American jurisprudence does tend to stick to domestic precedent, but that custom cannot explain this disregard for education policy abroad. After all, former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the majority in Zelman, was a prominent champion of deference to foreign practice and inspired others to follow in his path. In authoring the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, Kennedy famously drew on British legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights to overturn state laws criminalizing homosexual relations. Two years later, Kennedy made use of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child in writing the majority opinion in Roper v. Simmons to nullify the constitutionality of the death penalty for juvenile offenders.

The answer to this question is crucial. To have invoked foreign practice would have been to invite trouble. Publicly funded religious schools in such countries as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands are regulated to a degree that American proponents of religious schools would find unacceptable.

In Carson, Chief Justice John Roberts conceded in this light that while Maine public schools must adhere to specific standards for instruction in a range of subjects, that is not so for nonsectarian and religious private schools. Though accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), such schools, wrote Chief Justice Roberts, “are exempt from these requirements, and instead subject only to general ‘standards and indicators’ governing the implementation of their own chosen curriculum.”

As Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out in his dissent, one of the two schools at the heart of Carson, both of which are accredited by NEASC, considers academic and religious education “completely intertwined,” so much so that “in science class, students learn that atmospheric layers ‘are evidence of God’s good design.’”

At religious as well as nonsectarian private schools funded with public money in such countries as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, curricula must comport with national standards (meaning, for example, no attribution to divine design for atmospheric composition). In addition, teachers must be certified and guaranteed access to union membership while members of the LGBTQ community cannot be barred from either enrollment or employment.

The parameters of NEASC and other independent school organizations across the United States do not come close to such expectations, as Justice Breyer’s point about science education indicates. Indeed, many religious schools, such as the two defining Carson, refuse to hire gay or lesbian teachers.

While Maine passed an amendment to its human rights act to bar schools from receiving public money if they discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, that does not mean other states motivated by Carson to create similar programs will enact such protections; nor does it mean that Maine’s amendment will go unchallenged on the grounds that it interferes with an institution’s right to free exercise of religion.

In a guest essay in The New York Times, Aaron Tang, a professor of law at the University of California, Davis, cited this amendment as a model for deflecting the impact of decisions like Carson, but he neither acknowledged that other states implementing town tuitioning programs might not take such action nor recognized that Maine’s amendment might not last.

Setting aside whether public funding of any form of religious schooling poses a threat to democratic values by fostering societal division and conflict, as Justice Breyer claimed in his dissent, there can be no doubt that public funding of lightly regulated religious schooling poses precisely such a threat.

Policymakers abroad have understood this. And it is basic to our own tradition. The Supreme Court made this clear in 1925 in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, ruling unanimously that Oregon could not, as decided by a statewide referendum in 1922, bar private schools from operating but that it was empowered to carefully regulate them.

“No question is raised concerning the power of the State reasonably to regulate all schools,” the Court declared in Pierce, “to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.”

With Carson building on Zelman and Espinoza, public funding of religious schooling appears irreversible. But that does not mean the message of Pierce and the lessons from abroad cannot be heeded. With Kennedy, the public school as neutral common ground is over.

Samuel E. Abrams
Director, NCSPE
June 30, 2022

Published Thursday, Jun 30, 2022

I wrote about the purchase of the Texas State Board of Education by the chairman of the board of Hillsdale in a previous post.

The state board rejected an application for a Hillsdale charter school, and the rejection was supported by three Republicans on the board.

In retaliation, the chairman of the Hillsdale College board contributed $250,000 to a PAC to punish the errant Republicans. The PAC replaced two of them with privatizers, and the third was redistricted out of his seat.

Now, it’s smooth sailing for the theocratic, 1776-themed Hillsdale charters, which cater to white students.

The Hillsdale website lists its current charter schools.

What it does not mention is that the Hillsdale Classical Academies have collected millions of dollars in federal funding from the federal Charter Schools Program.

Here is a sampling of Hillsdale-Barney charter schools that have applied for and received federal funding:

Ascent Classical Academy of Northern Colorado $671,000

Treasure Valley Classical Academy Idaho  $1.25 million

Ivywood Classical Academy Michigan 1 million and managed by a for-profit

Seven Oaks Classical School, Indiana $899,962

St. Johns Classical Academy, Florida $513,000

Pineapple Cove Classical Academy at West Melbourne Florida  $612,363.00

Golden View Classical Academy Colorado $215,000

Atlanta Classical Academy $650,000

Estancia Valley Classical, New Mexico, $647,349

Doesn’t it make you furious to know that our tax dollars are supporting this Trump -Christian charter chain?

Steve Hinnefeld writes about the very expensive and ineffectual voucher program in Indiana, which is based on a lie. On several lies, actually. The promoters of vouchers claimed that vouchers would save poor kids from failing public schools. He shows in this post that most vouchers are used by students who never attended a public school, who are not poor, and who are not getting a better education than students in public schools. The advocates said it would save money, but the cost this year is nearly a quarter billion dollars.

He writes:

Indiana awarded $241.4 million in the 2021-22 school year to pay tuition and fees for students to attend private schools. That’s 44% more than the state spent on vouchers the previous year.

The increase, detailed in a Department of Education report, isn’t surprising. The Indiana General Assembly in 2021 vastly expanded the voucher program, opening it to families near the top of the state’s income scale and making the vouchers significantly more generous.

Nearly all the 330 private schools that received voucher funding are religious schools. Some discriminate against students, families and employees because of their religion, disability status, sexual orientation or gender identity. Indiana is bankrolling bigotry.

And many of the families receiving vouchers could pay private school tuition without public assistance. Some 20% of voucher households last year had an income of $100,000 or more, well above Indiana’s median household income of about $58,000.

The voucher program, created in 2011, was sold as a way to help children from poor families opt out of “failing” public schools. Mitch Daniels, Indiana’s governor at the time and a leading voucher advocate, said students should attend a public school for two semesters to qualify, giving public schools a chance to show what they could do.

But the two-semester requirement fell by the wayside. Students now have nine pathways by which they can qualify. If a family meets the income requirement, which is laughably lax, a private school can find a way to get them vouchers.

When the program started, supporters said it wouldn’t cost anything, because, if the students didn’t have vouchers, the state would be paying for them to attend public schools. They don’t even pretend to believe that anymore. In 2021-22, 70% of voucher students had no record of having attended a public school in the state. Most voucher funding is going to families that intended all along to send their kids to private schools — and often had the means to do so.

The program initially served both low- and middle-income families. Last year, the legislature threw the door open to high-income families. Now, a family of five making $172,000 can receive vouchers worth over $5,400 on average per child. For about half of all voucher students, the award covers the full cost of tuition and fees at their private school.

Voucher participation had stalled, but with last year’s expansion, the number of voucher students exploded: 44,376 students had vouchers in 2021-22, up 24.3% from the previous year.

Over the years, Indiana’s voucher population has grown whiter and markedly less poor. Nearly 60% of voucher students are white, an overrepresentation considering the program is most pervasive in urban areas, where there are many Black and Hispanic students. Only 10.5% of voucher students are Black, compared to 13.5% of Indiana public and charter school students.

The program might still seem justifiable if Indiana private schools were academically superior. They aren’t. Researchers at the universities of Kentucky and Notre Dame found that students who received vouchers fell behind their peers who remained in public schools.

Indiana policymakers no longer care about that either. They’ve embraced the idea that parents should have complete control over their children’s schooling and the public funds that pay for it. In a world of unrestricted school choice, state money will “follow the child,” wherever that may lead. Standards, accountability and academic quality don’t matter.

The point of privatization is not to help needy students but to destroy the public schools.

This article in The Houston Chronicle is infuriating. The subtitle might well be, “If the state board turns you down, buy it.”

As I read it, I felt my blood was coming to a boil. This is a portrayal of tank corruption, corruption of education and corruption of the democratic process. The elected state board of education in Texas denied the charter application of four out of five charters. The charters struck back by dumping vast sums of money into the election for state board and electing hand-picked candidates to give them the approvals they wanted. As I have shown in previous posts, charter schools in Texas are generally low-performing and compare unfavorably to public schools,

The article begins:

The State Board of Education last month denied, for the third time, efforts to launch Heritage Classical Academy in Northwest Houston, a school designed as a conservative response to anti-racism, LGBT-inclusive sex education and other progressive themes in public schools.

But despite Heritage’s recent failure, its future — and that of other charter schools like it in Texas — looks bright.

The state’s fight over charter schools has bubbled slowly for decades since they were first authorized in the 1990s, with the state board standing as the main political roadblock to their expansion.

Now, as Republican lawmakers fight to restrict how teachers discuss social issues in the classroom and generally shift the education system more toward the right, their alliance with charter schools is stronger than ever.

A MOVEMENT: Trump-era rancor spills into Texas school board politics

So much so that three GOP members of the state board, who have sided with Democrats in voting against Heritage Classical Academy, won’t be therenext time — two were beaten in a primary after the family of Heritage’s board chairman donated $250,000 to a PAC supporting their opponents. The third was redistricted out of his seat by the Texas Senate.

Heritage, and other classical academies to come, can count on a more sympathetic board starting in January.

Matt Robinson, the Republican who lost his seat in redistricting — he says he had decided before then not to run for re-election anyway — called his ouster a testament to the power charter school advocates wield.

“There’s a whole pattern here of them really strongly exerting the influence that they have with our elected officials,” he said.

LIBRARY BACKLASH: Texas GOP’s book hunt mostly targets LGBT issues, not critical race theory

The pitch for classical education

Heritage is part of the Barney Charter School initiative, a national charter school movement to introduce a more conservative ideology in schools. The initiative was founded by Hillsdale College in Michigan.

The college doesn’t fund or govern schools directly, but provides curriculum and consulting. Dozens of schools have been started so far across the nation, including one in Gardendale, Texas. The schools serve nearly 15,000 students and 8,000 more on wait-lists.

Its “1776 Curriculum” for charter schools teaches that “America is an exceptionally good country” and includes comprehensive lessons about American history through a conservative lens, including descriptions of the New Deal as bad public policy and of affirmative action as “counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders.”

The wife of conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Ginni Thomas — who reportedly lobbied to overturn the 2020 presidential election — is a former vice president at the college and ran its Washington programs.

Hillsdale is a nonsectarian Christian university with a mostly white student body that touts its role in the abolition movement of the 1800s, when Black activist Frederick Douglass spoke at the campus.

‘CRITICAL RACE THEORY’ IN SCHOOLS: Abbott signs law forbidding lessons on systemic racism

Across the country, only one Hillsdale-backed charter school serves a majority of economically disadvantaged students, and only two serve a majority of students of color, according to staff at the State Board of Education.

Heritage Classical Academy was voted down for the first time in 2020 by the board, several members said, because of the inclusion of “Brer Rabbit” books in its early grade curricula. The 19th century children’s story has been assailed by critics for promoting racist stereotypes and mimicking dialect used by African-American slaves.

The arguments for and against Heritage over the last few years have added up to more than the sum of their parts. When the board discussed it last month, conversations turned to how racism and slavery are taught, “inappropriate content in public schools,” alleged anti-Islamic Facebook posts made by a Heritage board member, the work experience of the proposed school leadership and more.

Aggressive lobbying from the Heritage board and its supporters also appears to have backfired, becoming a factor in the board’s decision this year to reject the charter.

After the board denied approval for the second time in 2021, Heritage Board Chair Stuart Saunders and his family donated more than $250,000 to a political action committee called Texans for Educational Freedom. That PAC then donate more than $500,000 to local school board races and other candidates who have promoted conservative themes in the schools.

The group donated in four State Board of Education races, including well over $100,000 total in the bids to unseat board members Sue Melton Malone and Jay Johnson, Republicans who opposed Heritage.

In their charter application filed with Texas Education Agency, Heritage reported 17 meetings with public officials ahead of the board’s decision last month, including a July 2021 meeting with TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and state Rep. Steve Toth, who penned the Legislature’s anti-critical race theory law. Signed a year ago by Gov. Greg Abbott, the law limits how public school teachers address systemic racism and the lingering impacts of slavery.

When it convenes in next year after this fall’s elections, the state board will be a more conservative body, with six new members.

“Clearly, (Saunders) was trying to use all his money to remake the SBOE, to buy it,” said Robinson, the board member from Friendswood who is losing his seat in redistricting. “When you really upset wealthy peoplethey don’t take that lightly.”

During an SBOE meeting, Robinson confronted Saunders — who is the chairman of SouthTrust Bank — saying that while Saunders’ donations were legal, they were unethical.

Saunders retorted: “Me and my family have a long history of supporting education initiatives. Part of our involvement includes a history of supporting public policy and education initiatives, and I did give some of my money to a PAC that is involved in education. Their website speaks of wanting to depoliticize the classroom, working to create strong local school boards and to root-out and eliminate sexually explicit materials that have found their way into our schools. And I support those initiatives.”

He said his son was assigned two “inappropriate” books in class, and though he confronted the school’s principal about them, only one of the books was removed from the curriculum.

Texas Ethics Commission records show that the PAC Saunders spoke of donated to SBOE races both before and after he and his family contributed money.

18,000 Texas students in classical schools

Over the last decade, the State Board of Education has generally been a chokepoint to charter school expansion. The board is given final veto power over charter applicants after they are approved by the TEA commissioner. Since 2017, TEA approved 35 schools, but the SBOE only allowed 23 to proceed.

Those who oppose charter schools typically do so because they say it weakens the structure of public education. Charter schools face less accountability than public schools, and when students flee struggling public schools for charters, the school districts lose out on the attendance-based funding they would have received from the state if the child was still a student.

“The idea of 95 percent of kids losing funding and programming and opportunities so that 5 percent can attend a private-light-school and parents aren’t paying a private school bill is just asinine to me,” said state board member Georgina Pérez, a Democrat who votes against all charter applicants.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has been pushing in the opposite direction. The last major change Republicans in Austin made to charter school law was removing the state board’s ability to approve expansions of existing charter schools, in 2013 paving the way for hundreds of new campuses. Charter enrollment has nearly doubled since, to 377,375 students (the state’s K-12 schools serve about 5 million children).

The total number of charter campuses has risen from 588 to 872.

“I always compare charter schools and how they expand to Gremlins if they eat after midnight. Tomorrow morning you’re going to wake up and you don’t know how many of them you’re going to have,” Pérez said.

There’s also an appetite particularly for “Classical” schools such as Heritage, of which there are already a number in Texas, including Aristoi Classical in Katy, the Great Hearts Texas schools, Founders Classical and Houston Classical. Their combined enrollment for the 2016-2017 school year was less than 7,500, and has more than doubled to 18,000, state data shows.

Charter school supporters and several members of the SBOE, they said they expect that another bill will be filed next year with renewed efforts to remove the state board’s authority to approve the schools, leaving the matter up to Education Commissioner Mike Morath, an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Some members of the state board added that Abbott lobbied their colleagues directly, asking them to approve Heritage’s application and other charter schools over the years.

“Historically it was, (the SBOE wasn’t) approving expansions fast enough, or enough, to keep pace with demand,” said Starlee Coleman, CEO of the Texas Charter Schools Association. “I would not be surprised one bit if a move were made to roll back the board’s authority, even farther.”

Charter school proponents point to a charter school wait-list in the state of more than 58,000 kids. They say families want more options and that public schools aren’t working for everyone. They point to data that show the large majority of charter students are children of color, and that their test scores are better than the public school averages.

“The statute is really clear about legislative intent is that there will be a robust and vibrant charter sector in Texas,” Coleman said. “if the state board can’t agree with that, then I don’t think state legislators feel very compelled to let them continue to be part of the process.”

Mercedes Schneider writes about Neil Gorsuch’s opinion on behalf of the Supreme Court’s extremist supermajority, upholding a coach’s right to engage in “personal” and “private” prayer.

The problem, she points out, is that his prayer was neither personal nor private.

Why did Gorsuch distort/PREVARICATE/LIE ABOUT the facts? My guess is that he is advancing an incremental plan by the Court’s extremists to restore prayer in the schools and overturn the 1962 decision that banned it (Engel v. Vitale).

Mercedes S. does something unusual but necessary. She goes beyond the Gorsuch opinion and reads the rulings against the coach in the appellate court, which show how Gorsuch simply ignored the facts of the case.

The appellate court rejected Coach Kennedy’s claim that he was engaged in personal, private prayer:

Below is the Kennedy backstory as detailed by Ninth Circuit Judge Milan Smith (beginning at page 9), who calls Appellant Kennedy’s supposed silent, private prayer narrative “false.” Smith begins by calling out a colleague on the bench, Judge O’Scannlain, for being taken in by it:

Unlike Odysseus, who was able to resist the seductive song of the Sirens by being tied to a mast and having his shipmates stop their ears with bees’ wax, our colleague, Judge O’Scannlain, appears to have succumbed to the Siren song of a deceitful narrative of this case spun by counsel for Appellant, to the effect that Joseph Kennedy, a Bremerton High School (BHS) football coach, was disciplined for holding silent, private prayers. That narrative is false.

Although I discuss the events in greater detail below, the reader should know the following basic truth ab initio: Kennedy was never disciplined by BHS for offering silent, private prayers. In fact, the record shows clearly that Kennedy initially offered silent, private prayers while on the job from the time he began working at BHS, but added an increasingly public and audible element to his prayers over the next approximately seven years before the Bremerton School District (BSD) leadership became aware that he had invited the players and a coach from another school to join him and his players in prayer at the fifty-yard line after the conclusion of a football game. He was disciplined only after BSD tried in vain to reach an accommodation with him after he (in a letter from his counsel) demanded the right to pray in the middle of the football field immediately after the conclusion of games while the players were on the field, and the crowd was still in the stands. He advertised in the area’s largest newspaper, and local and national TV stations, that he intended to defy BSD’s instructions not to publicly pray with his players while still on duty even though he said he might lose his job as a result.

As he said he would, Kennedy prayed out loud in the middle of the football field immediately after the conclusion of the first game after his lawyer’s letter was sent, surrounded by players, members of the opposing team, parents, a local politician, and members of the news media with television cameras recording the event, all of whom had been advised of Kennedy’s intended actions through the local news and social media.

She adds additional details, all of which demonstrate that Justice Gorsuch and his colleagues bought a fictional tale to advance their zeal to restore prayer in the schools.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Trump Republican from Colorado, apparently never took a class in civics, government or history and is an embarrassment to the Congress in which she serves. She won her primary on Tuesday. Boebert is a high school dropout who earned her GED in 2020, according to Wikipedia. She is a born-again Christian and a strident advocate of guns; she and her husband own a restaurant—Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colorado,where staff are encouraged to carry guns. From the following report, which appeared in the Washington Post, it is certain that she is ignorant about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.)…says she is “tired” of the U.S. separation of church and state, a long-standing concept stemming from a “stinking letter” penned by one of the Founding Fathers.

Speaking at a religious service Sunday in Colorado, she told worshipers: “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it.”

She added: “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter, and it means nothing like what they say it does.” Her comments were first reported by the Denver Post.

The Constitution’s First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” has been widely interpreted to mean the separation of church and state — although the phrase is not explicitly used.

Gwen Calais-Haase, a political scientist at Harvard University, told The Washington Post that Boebert’s interpretation of the Constitution was “false, misleading and dangerous.” Calais-Haase said she was “extremely worried about the environment of misinformation that extremist politicians take advantage of for their own gains.”

Steven K. Green, a professor of law and affiliated professor of history and religious studies at Willamette University, agreed, saying, “Rep. Boebert is wrong on both matters.”

“While the phrase separation of church and state does not appear verbatim in the Constitution, neither do many accepted constitutional principles such as separation of powers, judicial review, executive privilege, or the right to marry and parental rights, no doubt rights that Rep. Boebert cherishes,” wrote Green, the author of “Separating Church and State: A History.”