SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS: COUNTERING THE FUNDAMENTALISTS by Frank Prahl Within the past deca

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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 recently. 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 the name. 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 agep‰Ž@ĎĎ€National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty, National Education Association, and Unitarian-Universalist Association. Humanist Leader Helps Defeat the Klan Tom Malone, AHA regional coordinator for the southeastern states and president of the AHA's Georgia chapter, recently won in a class action suit against the Ku Klux Klan. He, and each of his fellow litigants, collected $1,300 apiece for being victims of a stone throwing attack on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Brotherhood March held in Forsyth Country, Georgia. This settlement, secured by the Southern Poverty Law Center, succeeded in putting one of the largest southern klan organizations out of business. (In an ironic twist, government officials closing down Klan headquarters donated the furniture to a local office of the NAACP.) Clearly, Humanists can help make a difference! New Seminar Program Launched As directed by President Michael Werner, the AHA is now launching a new seminar program. There will be traveling lectures designed to increase public knowledge of Humanism and show Humanists themselves how to apply the philosophy in their communities and in their personal lives. Professors and other specialists are being organized. The first in the series will be on the history of Freethought and Humanism. Watch this bulletin for details on a seminar near you! Humanistic Judaism Conference The Society for Humanistic Judaism Annual Conference and Youth Conclave will be held April 21-24 in Stanford, Connecticut. For more details write to Miriam Jerris, Society for Humanistic Judaism, 28611 West 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48334 or phone (313) 478-7610. Lavanam to Tour USA Again At the end of last year and the beginning of this, Lavanam from the Atheist Centre in Vijayawada, India, toured the United States and Canada, visiting Humanist chapters and freethought societies from coast to coast. Well, Lavanam will be back in the country starting in May of this year and has expressed the desire to visit with chapters of the American Humanist Association (AHA) throughout the month of June. If your chapter is interested in featuring him as a speaker on Humanism in India or on how to make the Humanist philosophy more meaningful for ordinary people, please contact the AHA national office immediately. Ellen Senchoway is in charge of all arrangements. Carl Sagan to Address CSICOP Conference Astronomer Carl Sagan will give the keynote address at the 1994 conference of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal to be held at the Doubletree Suites Hotel in Seattle, WA, June 24-26. There will be sessions on how worldviews are formed, how we fool ourselves, the reliability of memory, conspiracy theories, near-death experiences, junk science in the courtroom, and UFOs. Registration is $135 per person (full-time students with ID, $25). The four optional meals total $80 per person more. Lodging at the Doubletree Suites Hotel (which includes complimentary full breakfast buffet) is $79 per night, single or double. Lodging at the Doubletree Inn across the street is $65 per night, single or double. Phone (206) 575-8220 for either hotel. For further information, contact Mary Rose Hays, CSICOP, P.O. Box 703, Buffalo, NY 14226 -- (716) 636-1425, FAX (716) 636-1733. Meetings in Canada The International Humanist and Ethical Union will hold its board meeting in Toronto, Ontario, on the mornings of July 6 and 7. The location is the Chestnut Park Hotel in downtown Toronto. Also on July 7, and at the same hotel, the Humanist Association of Canada will hold its Annual General Meeting from 2:00 to 5:00 PM. This will be followed by the Board Meeting of the Bertrand Russell Society, lasting from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. Then there will be AMHERST NY 14226-7188 Phone: (800) 743-6646

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