Blame it (again) on the ACLU

Whenever right wingers find themselves short of facts to support an argument (and that happens a lot), their favorite, wornout alternative is simply to bash the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that they like to blame for almost every problem – real and imagined – that has ever befallen this country. Nothing apparently gets the conservative juices flowing like some antiACLU redmeat rhetoric.

Predictably, the ACLUbashing has erupted in the continuing debate over the State Board of Education’s attempted rewrite of history. (And that was before the ACLU today released a report urging the Legislature to limit the ability of SBOE members to insert their personal ideologies into curriculum content. Now, the rhetoric will go into overdrive.)

Yesterday, a spokesman for the conservative Liberty Institute, which has frequently squared off against the ACLU – both in the courtroom and in the media – was quick to criticize a group of religious leaders for urging the SBOE to reconsider its efforts to downplay the separation of church and state when it takes a final vote on new history curriculum standards next week.

These religious leaders – the ecumenical Texas Faith Network – agree with most historians that the nation’s founding fathers did, indeed, want a “wall of separation” between religion and government in this country. They value their religious freedom and want the SBOE to require high school students to be taught the reasons behind the prohibition of a state religion in the Bill of Rights.

The SBOE’s rightwing bloc rejected that requirement in March. It also attempted to demote Thomas Jefferson’s role in history because of his strong advocacy for a separation of church and state. The board’s conservatives want to promote their view that America was founded as a fundamentalist Christian nation.

As quoted in the Austin AmericanStatesman, Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and spokesman for the Liberty Institute, criticized the moremoderate religious leaders for trying to “pressure the SBOE to adopt an ACLUendorsed strict concept of separation of church and state language in the social studies standards.”

The Liberty Institute also has an ACLUbashing section on its website, complaining primarily about the ACLU’s recent involvement in samesex marriage and other gay rights issues.

More often than not – and often to the chagrin of rightwingers the ACLU, during its 90 years in the legal and political arena, has been on the right (as in correct) side of history, as determined by court decisions in a string of important civil rights decisions. Several of those have had a direct impact on education.

In 1925, in the Scopes “monkey” trial, the ACLU secured the services of famed attorney Clarence Darrow to defend a Tennessee schoolteacher for teaching evolution. And it continues to fight efforts to require the teaching of “creationism” or “intelligent design” as alternatives to evolution. Now, I am pretty sure we know what the Liberty Institute thinks of those cases.

But what does the Liberty Institute – and, for that matter, the State Board of Education’s rightwing bloc – think about desegregated public schools?

Surely, they support them. But perhaps they didn’t know – or have just forgotten – that the ACLU joined the NAACP in the lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation decision in 1954 –Brown v. Board of Education.

The ACLU’s work, though, is never done. Now, it is contending with the State Board of Education’s hijacking of history and the democratic process. Here is a link to the new ACLU report criticizing the SBOE for a “systemic abuse” of power and asking the Legislature to clip its wings:


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