Right-wing media have worked themselves into a tizzy over a controversy about a student reading his Bible in a Florida public school, but they aren't telling the whole story.
The CBS affiliate in Miami, FL, reported on May 5 that a fifth-grade boy at a public school in Broward County claimed he was banned from reading his Bible during "free-time reading" in his classroom:
A Broward County boy said he was banned from reading "The Good Book" during free-reading time in school. The boy and his father have hired an attorney, calling this a violation of the boy's Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, the Broward County School District says this is all a big misunderstanding.
The Miami Herald reported that Broward school officials "rejected the accusation" because the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," not during a free-reading session. The Herald also noted that the boy's family is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a "conservative religious-rights group" that "targeted Broward County on Monday in an ongoing campaign contending that faith is under attack in America's elementary schools." (Indeed, the Liberty Institute has a "long history of hyperbolic assertions about the impending end of religious freedom.")
A statement from Broward County Public Schools on Monday, May 5, affirmed the county's commitment to religious freedom:
Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any "free reading" time during the school day.
On right-wing media, however, it's a much different story.
Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed the story on May 6, leading with its "Trouble With Schools" chryon. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the boy's father had previously been in touch with the school principal about when the boy was allowed to read the Bible in school, which included before and after school, during lunch, and at free time, but that "the teacher didn't like it" when the boy began reading his Bible during "his free time." Doocy continued:
DOOCY: Well the teacher didn't like it, and the kid said, if you have a problem with this, you need to call my dad. Well the dad wasn't there to pick up the phone and instead, the teacher left this embarrassing voicemail.
Fox News reporter and serial misinformer Todd Starnes failed to disclose that the source for his latest bogus religious liberty horror story is the vice president of sales at the publishing house promoting Starnes' latest book - a book that, conveniently enough, warns of growing "intolerance" against American Christians.
On March 29, Starnes reported that five-year-old Gabriella Perez had been rebuked by a teacher for trying to pray in her Oviedo, FL school lunchroom. The girl recounted the alleged episode in a YouTube video posted by her father, Marcos Perez. Starnes' report featured an original interview with Perez, who told Starnes that he had long had concerns about "issues and agendas we see in the culture war."
But on April 1, the Orlando Sentinel raised doubts about the credibility of Perez's story. According to the Sentinel's report, none of the staff who could have been at the cafeteria at the time of the incident recall witnessing the student being spoken to about prayer. The staff member who allegedly spoke to Gabriella Perez hasn't been identified, and the school has reiterated that it has no policy prohibiting students from praying.
The Sentinel also revealed that Marcos Perez is the vice president of sales at Charisma House, the publisher of Starnes' soon-to-be-published collection of religious liberty horror stories, God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values (emphasis added):
School officials have not interviewed Gabriella, who was pulled from the school by her parents the day after the video was posted. The Perezes said they accelerated existing plans to home school her. Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book "God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values," by Fox News host Todd Starnes. Starnes reported on the lunch prayer controversy for Fox News Radio. Marcos Perez said he did the interview with Starnes because "I'm passionate about the cause." He seemed distressed by any notion of ulterior motives. Using his family to promote a book "would be egregious," he said. "I'm a father first, a VP of sales second."
As Right Wing Watch noted, Perez was recently featured in a press release promoting Starnes' book.
Starnes' report on the alleged incident now includes an editor's note disclosing Perez's employment at the top of the article:
From the February 4 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Fox News' Todd Starnes accused a Georgia elementary school of "confiscating" Christmas cards in an effort to stifle religious expression, prompting outrage from residents and threats of corrective legislation from Georgia lawmakers. But according to the school district, Starnes' allegations are completely false.
In a story posted on his Fox News Radio show titled "Georgia School Confiscates Christmas Cards," Starnes cited the husband of one teacher at the school who claimed many teachers were "disgruntled by the school's decision to confiscate the Christmas cards." Starnes asserted that the Bulloch County Board of Education "cracked down" on the Christmas card display, as well as many other acts of "religious expression in their schools" :
Teachers have been ordered to remove any religious icons or items from their classrooms - ranging from Bibles to Christian music.
Teachers have also been instructed to avoid student-led prayers at all costs. Should they be in a room where students are praying, teachers have been ordered to turn their backs on their students.
Hundreds of outraged residents have joined a Facebook page to protest the crackdown - and many are vowing to attend a school board meeting on Thursday to let school officials have a piece of their mind.
The Board of Education released a statement late Tuesday denying the moving of the Christmas cards had anything to do with the "current open and ongoing discussions that the school system is having with local citizens about religious liberties and expression."
"We don't want this misinformation to derail the positive work we are committed to with our community leaders," Supt. Charles Wilson said in a prepared statement. "I'm appalled by this attack on our school system, and on Brooklet Elementary."
After Starnes' article, right wing media outlets picked up his story adding to outrage in the community. Town Hall reprinted Starnes' article and The Blaze reported that according to Fox News, "administrators reportedly asked teachers to move a group of hallway Christmas cards out of the view of students." Starnes' report even led one Georgia state senator, Judson Hill (R), to denounce the Bulloch County Board of Education and threaten to "explore possible legislation, if needed, to protect religious freedom of GA taxpayers":
Fox News spent an entire week hyping a supposed "War on Easter," pointing to the decision made by a few school boards to hold "Spring egg hunt[s]" instead of Easter egg hunts. In seven days, Fox devoted 10 segments to what host Bill O'Reilly called the continued "war on Judeo-Christian tradition."
On March 21, O'Reilly lambasted President Obama and the White House for empowering "secular progressives" to pressure school districts around the country to eliminate terms like "Easter bunny" and "Easter egg." O'Reilly complained that "the war on Judeo-Christian tradition continues in some public school districts," citing districts in five states that he said "are having Spring egg events. Moderated by a Spring bunny":
O'REILLY: I know it's stupid. You know it's stupid. But it's happening, and there is a reason why it's happening. Secular progressives are running wild with President Obama in the White House. They feel unchained, liberated and they are trying to diminish any form of religion. The goal is to marginalize religious opposition to secular programs.
In the past week, several Fox shows followed O'Reilly's lead, airing segments that criticized the "P.C. police" and focused on "assaults" that have put Christianity "on the run in this country":
Fox host and former governor Mike Huckabee attempted to walk back his comments linking a lack of religion in schools to Friday's tragic shooting in Newtown, CT. But while Huckabee now claims that he did not suggest "prayer in schools" would have prevented the shooting, he indeed seemed to imply that religion in schools could have done as much in his remarks on Friday.
On Friday, Huckabee responded to a question about God from Fox host Neil Cavuto by linking the removal of "God from our schools" to mass school shootings.
On Fox & Friends Saturday, he attempted to clarify his comments, saying, "Yesterday, I was on Neil Cavuto. He asked me, you know, where was God? I said, you know, we've systematically removed him from our culture, from our schools. Well, I've been barraged by people who have said that I said, well, if we just have prayer in schools, this wouldn't happen. That's not my point."
HUCKABEE: No, my point is a larger point -- that we have as a culture decided that we don't want to have values, that we don't want to say that some things are always right, some things are always wrong. When we divorce ourselves from a basic sense of what we would call, I would say, collective morality where we agree on certain principles to be true always, then we create a culture -- not that it specifically creates this crime. It doesn't. But it creates an atmosphere in which evil and violence are removed from our sense of responsibility.
From the December 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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From the October 18 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No venue provides a more exquisite fit for a Dick Morris speaking event than the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The high walls of this monument to speed and sponsorship feature mural-sized photos of the greatest car-and-drivers ever sold, their hoods and helmets bursting with brands both familiar and forgotten. Dick Morris could match any of them with the sponsors to whom he's rented his name in recent years.
That roster now includes the logos of National School Choice Week (NSCW) and its patron, the Gleason Family Foundation. It was in their name that Morris cruised into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 26 as part of a national speaking tour to promote "school choice," a conservative crusade to steer tax dollars out of public schools and into the private education sector, which is heavily religious and non-union. Over the past year, Morris' NSCW involvement has included several plugs for the events during seemingly non-related appearances on Fox News, including spots on Hannity and On The Record With Greta Van Susteren. In a typical appearance, Morris blasted President Obama for failing to discuss National School Choice Week and the school choice movement.
"I'm here in Chicago; it's National School Choice Week," Morris told Sean Hannity. "All over the country, people are going to charter and other schools as an alternative to the teachers union monopoly and [Obama] didn't mention it."
Speaking of things not mentioned, at no point during his NASCAR Hall of Fame speech or his various Fox appearances did Morris disclose that the Gleason Family Foundation -- a major funder of School Choice Week -- has paid out at least $180,000 in "marketing" fees to Triangulation Strategies, a consulting firm registered to Morris' wife and co-author, Eileen McGann. (Morris has frequently used Triangulation Strategies to collect fees from candidates and political groups.) As with so many slides on Morris' well-worn coin-operated viewfinder, his school-choice promotion coincides with lucrative business relationships.
It must be a slow news day for the Fox News outlets, since Fox Nation has decided to kick up dust on one of their favorite fearmonger-and-freak-out topics: the separation of church and state.
Two separate posts on the topic appeared Friday on Fox News' blog, Fox Nation. One, titled "Judge Bans Religious Words from Graduation Ceremony," focuses on a judge's ruling that a public high school in Texas must exclude planned opening and closing prayers as part of its graduation ceremony. Yet, as Media Matters has already noted, contrary to Fox Nation's claim, "religious words" were not "banned from [the] graduation ceremony" in question. Students will still be permitted to speak about their faith if they so choose during individual speeches. The judge's ruling simply prohibits the public high school graduation ceremony from essentially conducting prayer services or asking people to pray.
The second post, titled "Court: NYC Schools Can Ban Churches," has to do with a federal appeals court ruling that New York City must uphold -- gasp! -- The First Amendment. The post, which also appears on Fox Radio's home page, misleads with its headline. In fact, NYC schools cannot "ban churches." What they can do is prohibit their schools from being used as places of worship. If Fox had bothered to read a New York Times article on the same topic, they might have read this:
Deciding 2 to 1, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the city had "a strong basis to believe" that allowing the religious services to be conducted in schools could be seen as the kind of endorsement of religion that violated the First Amendment's establishment clause.
"When worship services are performed in a place," Judge Pierre N. Leval wrote for the majority, "the nature of the site changes. The site is no longer simply a room in a school being used temporarily for some activity."
"The place has, at least for a time, become the church," he wrote, adding that the city's policy imposed "no restraint on the free expression of any point of view." Rather, it applied only to "a certain type of activity -- the conduct of worship services -- and not to the free expression of religious views associated with it."
Judge John M. Walker Jr. dissented, saying the ban on religious worship services violated the First Amendment's free speech clause. (Emphasis added)
So, not only is Fox fearmongering about religious freedom, but it is also spreading blatant falsehoods about judicial rulings. Fox's misinformation follows a long history of its irresponsibility when it comes to educating the masses, but there's no excuse for continuing to push these repeatedly debunked claims -- especially when all it does is make it clear that Fox doesn't understand -- or care -- about the First Amendment rights of Americans.
A judge has ordered a graduation ceremony for a public high school in Texas to be changed to exclude planned opening and closing prayers. While this adheres to the Constitution of the United States, that's not good enough for Fox & Friends who, today, hosted one of the would-be-praying graduates and his parents to push back against the separation of church and state. The show did not mention that there was no prohibition against students making religious references during their individual speeches. This follows Fox's long history of fabricating a "war on Christians."
work to install a Bible curriculum into your public school district. Yes, it's legal, constitutional and being placed right now in thousands of schools across the country. A brand-new electronic version of the curriculum is available this week. The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools' curriculum has been voted into 572 school districts (2,086 high schools) in 38 states, from Alaska and California to Pennsylvania and Florida. Ninety-three percent of school boards that have been approached to date with the curriculum have voted to implement it because the course helps students understand the Bible's influence and impact on history, literature, our legal and educational systems, art, archaeology and other parts of civilization. In this elective class, students are required to read through their textbook -- the Bible.
According to a 2008 Austin American-Statesman article, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools has been criticized by religious scholars for "sloppy work," factual errors, and for portraying conservative protestant Christianity as the "only true religion":
Legal issues aside, [University of Texas biblical studies professor Steven] Friesen said the National Council curriculum is "sloppy work" with factual, historical mistakes; dubious sources; and a shallow understanding of the academic discipline.
A review of the curriculum published in an academic journal last year found that it assumes that conservative Protestant Christianity is the "only true religion" and that the Bible is "infallible and thus historically accurate."
"As a whole, it does little to describe the Bible in literature, and it presents a particular view of biblical history that may push the bounds of what is acceptable in a public-school setting," wrote the authors, one of whom is Kent Richards, director of the Society of Biblical Literature.
And Chuck Norris claims this curriculum is a corrective to schools functioning as as "indoctrination camps."
From the October 15 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:
From the October 15 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:
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As Washington Monthly's Steve Benen notes, former Arkansas Governor and current Fox News host Mike "Huckabee doesn't know what he's talking about."
Perhaps Politico should have taken that into consideration before uncritically repeating Huckabee's false claim that the economic recovery package is "anti-religious." Though the provision Huckabee cited is correct -- the bill would not provide money to be used on a religious "school or department of divinity" -- Politico did not note that, contrary to Huckabee's suggestion that this provision is a consequence of the liberal trifecta of Pelosi-Reid-Obama, such provisions were included in bills passed when the Republicans were in the majority, as Media Matters has noted.
Look, if Mike Huckabee doesn't like the stimulus bill, fine. But to tell people the legislation is "anti-religious" is just insane. Or, to put it another way, Huckabee is bearing false witness, which as he may have heard, is generally frowned upon.
Regular readers know the story by now, but if you're just joining us, this myth has been making the rounds in right-wing circles for about a week. Originally, the American Center for Law and Justice, a right-wing legal group formed by TV preacher Pat Robertson, said the stimulus bill includes a provision that would prohibit "religious groups and organizations from using" buildings on college campuses. Soon after, religious right groups and right-wing blogs were up in arms, demanding that lawmakers fix the "anti-Christian" language of the bill. Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network helped get the word out to the far-right base about the nefarious measure. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) actually tried to have the provision removed from the bill.
There was, however, one small problem: there was no such measure. The ACLJ doesn't know how to read legislation, and didn't realize that the standard language in the bill simply blocks spending for on-campus buildings that are used primarily for religion (like a chapel, for example). This same language has been part of education spending bills for 46 years. It's just the law, and it's never been controversial.