Church-State Update, Vol. 28, No. 4

Edd Doerr, Tom Flynn

Center for Inquiry Hits Textbook Errors

A high-school government textbook, American Government: Institutions and Policies, Tenth Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), has been criticized in a twenty-five -page report issued by the Center for Inquiry/Transnational (CFI) on March 28. The textbook was written by two conservative authors—James Q. Wilson and former Bush administration Faith-Based Initiatives and Community director John J. DiIulio. The report, by CFI attorneys Ronald A. Lindsay and Derek C. Araujo and retired NASA scientist Stuart D. Jordan, documents the charge that the textbook casts doubt on the fact of global warming, misrepresents settled law on prayer in public schools, provides misleading information on the First Amendment’s establishment of religion clause, and contains other errors.

The report’s authors state that the “factual errors, omissions, and misleading statements” in the text pose “a strong risk of distorting students’ understanding of basic facts and principles central to the study of American government” and urge the publisher to make corrections without delay. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on April 9 that the publisher will change some passages and reconsider others.

The report is available online at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/CFI_Textbook_Critique.pdf.—ED

Florida Troubles Again

One of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s key projects was to get tax support for faith-based private schools through a school voucher plan. That was shot down by the state’s Supreme Court in 2007. So Republicans in the legislature have now narrowly approved a November referendum to remove from the state constitution this language from Article I, Section 3: “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.” Similar provisions are found in at least thirty-seven other state constitutions and have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supporters of church-state separation and public education in Florida will have to spend considerable time, effort, and money to defeat this blatant attack on a basic American democratic principle traceable to Madison and Jefferson. I expect they will win; after all, in twenty-six statewide referenda around the country, voters have rejected school vouchers or their variants by an average margin of 2 to 1.—ED

CSH Suit Motivates Amendment Campaign

Legal activism is meant to spark social change, but this is ridiculous. The Florida referendum to strike the state constitution’s provision barring public funding for religious organizations is partly a response to the Council for Secular Humanism’s ongoing lawsuit challenging Florida’s faith-based initiative. As previously reported, the Council’s First Amendment Task Force orchestrated a suit, Council for Secular Humanism v. McDonough, alleging that efforts to channel state funds to religious organizations violates the state constitution’s “no revenue” clause—yes, the one the upcoming referendum seeks to eliminate. According to newspaper accounts, the referendum was first proposed by Patricia Levesque, a close associate of Jeb Bush, who cited the Council’s suit as a reason why the “no revenue” clause must be stricken.—TF

Abstinence-Only Education Flunks

A new study by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle has found (confirming previous studies) that comprehensive sexuality education is a much better deterrent of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections than abstinence-only education. Data from the survey of 1,700 male and female adolescents aged fifteen to nineteen showed that students who had participated in comprehensive sexuality education had a 50 percent lower risk of unplanned pregnancy than students who received only abstinence-only or no sexuality education at all.—ED

Catholic School Downturn

Washington, D.C.—Archbishop Donald Wuerl has declared that his church can no longer afford to maintain all of its urban faith-based schools and is looking to convert at least seven of them into tax-supported secular public charter schools. Whether the financially strapped District of Columbia will buy into the plan hasn’t been settled. And some are questioning whether the converted schools would become truly secular public schools.

But beyond this minor-scale problem in one community lies the far larger question of what has been happening to Catholic schools and the Church itself nationwide. In 1965, U.S. Catholic schools enrolled 5.5 million students, about half of all Catholic students. They now enroll less than 2.3 million. According to studies by Catholic universities ordered by the Nixon administration, the enrollment decline was due to “changing parental preferences” and not to economics. In my 2000 book Catholic Schools: The Facts, I attributed the decline to falling anti-Catholic prejudice in the United States; the election of the first Catholic president in 1960; the liberalizing influence of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council; negative reactions to Pope Paul VI’s regressive 1968 encyclical against contraception; and the Supreme Court’s 1962 and 1963 rulings against, essentially, Protestant prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Then, too, since the 1960s, Catholics in the United States, like their counterparts in Western Europe, have increasingly disagreed with church leadership on such issues as marriage and divorce, contraception and abortion, clerical celibacy and ordination of women, and other matters. Add to that the clerical sexual-abuse scandals that have cost the Church dearly in cash (over $2.3 billion), respect, and reputation. No wonder Catholic officials now want taxpayers to support the sectarian schools in which most Catholics have lost interest.—ED

Edd Doerr

Edd Doerr is a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He headed Americans for Religious Liberty for thirty-six years and is a past president of the American Humanist Association.

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


Center for Inquiry Hits Textbook Errors A high-school government textbook, American Government: Institutions and Policies, Tenth Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), has been criticized in a twenty-five -page report issued by the Center for Inquiry/Transnational (CFI) on March 28. The textbook was written by two conservative authors—James Q. Wilson and former Bush administration Faith-Based Initiatives and …

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