I've worked at Americans United for 20 years, and in that time, I've read about -- and even witnessed -- a lot of dumb things happening because of pressure from the Religious Right. I thought I'd seen it all, but every now and then something occurs that takes my breath away.
Something like that just happened in Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has forced its director of science curriculum to resign because – horror of horrors! – she had the temerity to issue an e-mail pointing out a speech by a noted opponent of "intelligent design" (ID).
Chris Comer sent an "FYI" e-mail to some individuals and community groups pointing out an October presentation by Barbara Forrest, coauthor of the book Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, which is critical of the ID movement.
As it happens, I know Barbara Forrest personally. She serves on the Board of Trustees of Americans United and has worked with AU for several years to block neo-creationism in our public schools.
Barbara teaches philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. Her book, authored with biology professor Paul R. Gross, is a devastating critique of the ID movement that exposes its sectarian origins and the great lengths its advocates go to cover them up. Barbara served as an expert witness in the legal case against ID in Dover, Pa., which was litigated by Americans United and our allies.
In short, Barbara brings a wealth of experience and deep personal knowledge to the table. Teachers, parents, students and interested citizens in Texas would have benefited greatly from what she had to say. Yet, according to TEA, the mere act of telling people that Forrest was speaking is a firing offense.
It's not surprising to learn that a former Bush administration official is caught up in this disgraceful action. As the Austin American-Statesman reported, the demand to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education. During Bush's tenure as Texas governor, Reynolds served as deputy legislative director. She joined TEA as a senior adviser on statewide initiatives in January.
Reported the newspaper, "Reynolds, who was out sick the day Comer forwarded the e-mail, received a copy from an unnamed source and forwarded it to Comer's bosses less than two hours after Comer sent it."
The American-Statesman reported that Reynolds hit the roof.
"This is highly inappropriate," she blustered in an e-mail to Comer's supervisors. "I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities. This is something that the State Board, the Governor's Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports."
Shortly afterward, Comer was forced out.
Texas' State Board of Education will begin reviewing the science portion of its statewide curriculum next year. The curriculum determines what is taught in Texas public schools and what textbooks are purchased.
Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed a creationist, Don McLeroy, to head that board. That action, combined with the Comer incident, do not bode well for the future of religious liberty and good science education in Texas.