Putting God on the School Board - Word&Way

Putting God on the School Board

The Good Book is on the naughty list in Texas.

A public school district in the Lone Star State banned the Bible from its school libraries last week just before the new academic year started. Before you call up the conservative culture warriors to protest the Bible heading to detention, you should know it’s pretty much their fault.

Republican politicians and conservative activists attacked public schools over the past couple years for supposedly pushing “critical race theory” or teaching sexually-inappropriate content. In that context, activists complained about books in the libraries in the Dallas suburb of Keller. In total, 41 books were targeted, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. At some point, someone filed a complaint about the Bible since it also has a lot of sexual references — though the complaint may have been, like in other places, a tongue-in-cheek protest against the whole book-banning effort.

The school district had a committee evaluate the books to decide which ones should stay or go. Morrison, Frank, and the Bible all passed the test. But then just before the new school year started, the district decided to ignore those evaluations and just automatically remove any book that received a complaint. And thus, the Bible got the boot. That’s quite an own goal by the Christian culture warriors!

The new round of review that forced out the Bible is required in part because of new policies pushed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and three conservatives elected to the Keller school board in May. Those candidates were backed by the new political action committee of a cellphone company that pledges to donate part of customers’ bills to “Christian” causes. So, Patriot Mobile Action dumped more than $400,000 into school board races in Keller and other districts in Tarrant County (which is a ton of money for school board races). The group bragged that all 11 of its candidates won.

“We believe to save America we must save our public schools,” said Leigh Wambsganss, executive director of Patriot Mobile Action. “We will not rest due to these victories. Today, we immediately shift our focus to November to advocate on behalf of Christian conservative candidates that value the constitution and stand up for freedom and liberty.”

And how does the company that calls itself “America’s only Christian conservative wireless service provider” define the “Christian” values of candidates they support? Promoting “the values of American exceptionalism” while being against critical race theory, believing “the Second Amendment is non-negotiable,” and holding that “our United States Constitution was founded on Judeo Christian principles.”

In another Dallas suburb school district last week, Patriot Mobile Action sparked a different kind of change, this time bringing religion into schools. State lawmakers last year passed a bill requiring schools to post “In God We Trust” if someone donates the poster or framed copy. Trying to post the national motto in public schools or on other public property has been a legislative priority of those espousing Christian Nationalism to teach their belief that Christian and American identities should be tied together.

So, the phone company’s political arm showed up in Southlake, where the PAC had also backed new candidates to the board, to give framed posters for each school in the district with “In God We Trust,” the American flag, and two Texan flags. The PAC put out a statement about the gifts, declaring that they were “putting God back into our schools.” They added that in August they’ve now given more than 200 such posters to schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“It’s just a beautiful thing to be able to do for our community,” Wambsganss told Fox News. “We want these in every schools [sic] in America.”

Screengrab from CBS DFW report on Patriot Mobile Action giving “In God We Trust” signs to a local school board in Southlake, Texas, on Aug. 15, 2022.

And there are groups and churches across the country joining the phone service provider in this crusade. As school board meetings and elections sparked headlines across the country in recent months, Christian political activists have often been at the center of the controversies.

So, in this issue of A Public Witness, we offer a review for the test about the cultural and political forces targeting public education. Then we open up a new chapter about how Christians have added to this political polarization before answering the essay question about the consequences of such politicking.

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