Published September 23, 2010
This is one vote that's certain to be by the book.
The Texas State Board of Education will vote Friday on a controversial resolution that aims to block what advocates say is an anti-Christian, pro-Islamic bias in world history textbooks.
But critics of the resolution say it is politically motivated and that none of the 15 board members have asked independent scholars to review its supporters' claims or the textbooks themselves.
The resolution cites "politically-correct whitewashes of Islamic culture and stigmas on Christian civilization," as well as "sanitized definitions of 'jihad' that exclude religious intolerance or military aggression against non-Muslims." Its supporters say some textbooks used in Texas clearly display a favorable tilt toward Islam and a bias against Christianity.
According to the resolution, one textbook used in Texas high schools from 1999 to 2003 devoted 120 lines to Christian beliefs, practices and holy writings, compared to 248 devoted to those of Islam. In another textbook approved for Texas high schools, 82 lines were devoted to Christianity and 159 to Islam.
"There's a problem and this resolution brings attention to it," Don McLeroy, a Republican member of the state Board of Education since 1998, told FoxNews.com on Wednesday. He said he plans to vote in support of the resolution.
"Academia wants to lean over backwards to be politically correct and not be labeled ethnocentric, so it's kind of a cultural relativism," he said.
McLeroy cited a 2003 textbook, "World Civilizations," that he said mentions neither Judaism nor Christianity in its table of contents, while referencing Islam multiple times.
"It's definitely a problem," said McLeroy, adding that he's received dozens of messages in support of the resolution.
Meanwhile, nearly 100 religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths have signed an open letter coordinated by the Texas Faith Network that rejects the resolution as either "misleading" or flatly inaccurate. The group's members plan to deliver the letter to state board members during Friday's vote.
"As leaders from faith communities across Texas, we urge the state board to reject this misleading and inflammatory resolution," Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones, superintendent of the Austin District of the United Methodist Church, said in a statement released Monday.
"Once again, however, realistic information takes a backseat to religious intolerance here, and education suffers a blow."
But Board of Ed member Barbara Cargill, who supports the resolution, said she reviewed three of the textbooks in question and found several instances of bias against Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.
"What this resolution does to me is send a polite message to publishers that here are some things we don't want in the textbooks, and we don't want bias," she told FoxNews.com. "We want all religious groups to be treated equally.
"It's not meant to be divisive; it's actually meant to ensure equality and fairness and is not favoring Christianity over any religion."
In "World History: Patterns of Interaction," Cargill said she found inequalities in subsections pertaining to Islam, like "Benefits and Practices of Islam." Sections that covered Christianity, she said, did not have such subsections.
"What I don't see in this book is Christian achievements or benefits of Christianity," she told FoxNews.com.
The nonbinding resolution calls for the board to disallow textbooks that demonize or lionize major religions. If passed, it would "reject future prejudicial Social Studies submissions." The state, however, is not scheduled to adopt or purchase new history textbooks until 2012 at the earliest, and due to predicted state budget shortages, more likely not until subsequent years.
But that time gap hasn't quelled or stifled the increasingly heated debate surrounding the textbooks.
Chairwoman Gail Lowe, who was unavailable for comment Wednesday, told the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram she did not "have a clue" as to the outcome of Friday's vote. Lowe, who will vote only in the case of a tie within the 15-member body, told the newspaper she supports the concept of the resolution and has received roughly 30 letters in overwhelming support of it.
Imam Islam Mossaad of the North Austin Muslim Community Center joined Jones and other religious figures opposing the resolution during a news conference on Monday in Austin in which they called on the Board of Ed to reject it.
"Our children's textbooks must treat all religions accurately and fairly, neither denigrating any faith, nor promoting one religion over theirs," Mossaad said in a statement. "This commitment to religious freedom is a true American value we all share."
Rev. Larry Bethune of University Baptist Church in Austin said he hopes the board denies efforts to divide people of faith with "culture war" tactics such as the resolution.
"It's important that board members put education ahead of politics and ensure that Texas doesn't become a poster child for intolerance toward people of any faith," Bethune said.