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On Sunday, November 7, at 11:30 am, the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas (FACT), based in San Antonio, is inviting the public to the city of Comfort for the Third Anniversary Freethinker Cenotaph Commemorative Ceremony of the German Freethinkers, who founded the town in 1854. 

Participants are to meet in front of the Ingenhuett General Store, 830-834 High Street, again in Comfort, Texas. 

Following the program, lunch will be served at Double D Biergarten's Patio at 1004 Front Street. The buffet costs $7.95.

Convening the weekend of Friday, October 8, through Sunday, October 10, the 2004 Texas Atheist and Agnostic Conference, hosted by the Atheist Community of Austin at the Holiday Inn-Town Lake, was widely viewed by attendees as a rousing success. As the highlight of the event, Michael Newdow detailed his experiences challenging the "Under God" addition to the Pledge of Allegiance in his keynote address in an emotionally engaging, fast-paced rapid-fire style laced with jokes and even songs, some of which are also available at his website. After having his challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance denied by the US Supreme Court for reasons of standing, Newdow now plans to represent other families making the same challenge in every Federal Circuit Court in the nation.

Earlier on Saturday, Newdow had appeared as a guest on Jeff Dee, Russell Glasser and Dennis Loubet’s internet-audio show The Non-Prophets, along with several other conference speakers. The internet-audio show team combined interviews with news and technical information on how to produce a show like theirs in front of a studio audience. 

On Sunday morning, local attorney Thomas Van Orden indicated that the US Supreme Court’s certiori decision on his suit challenging the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds in Austin would be available Tuesday morning at the Supreme Court's website. Should cert be granted, Van Orden expects to win 6-3.

The Atheist Community of Austin gave donations to both Newdow and Van Orden to help them continue their state-church separation efforts. 

Envisioned as an annual working conference to leverage the experience of different Texas groups in support of each other’s growth, attendees to this year’s gathering learned details of website development, internet-audio show production, and public-access television-show creation. They also heard experiences from each other’s groups as well as listened to informative and often entertaining presentations. At a meeting Saturday night, it was decided to return to Austin for next year’s conference. This year was its first annual.

On 91.7 FM and also live on the web, KOOP Radio featured attorney Michael Newdow, best known for the Pledge case that went to the US Supreme Court, in an interview with Allan Campbell, Tuesday, October 5, from 2 to 3 pm.

Campbell's weekly radio program, El Gringo Show, addresses the concerns of a diverse, interdependent people under siege by war, empire, patriarchy, race and class hierarchy, heterosexism, and religious extremism. News stories on his program ypically alternate with music, which, in the tradition of such filmmakers as Kenneth Anger and Michael Moore, usually amplifies the issues being covered in both expected and unexpected ways. The songs featured during the October 5th episode were Les McCann and Eddie Harris' "Compared to What," Bruce Springsteen's rendition of "This Land Is Your Land" (written by Woody Guthrie as an answer to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America"), John Lennon's "God," and, inevitably, Funkadelic's "One Nation Under Groove," which concluded the hour.

In addition to being a programmer of record at the radio station, Allan Campbell is also a member of the Atheist Community of Austin, where he currently is serving his second term on its Board of Directors. On June 18 of thisyear, he and another member, Don Baker, addressed the public on behalf of ACA as guests of another KOOP Radio program, Outspoken, hosted by Lonny Stern, regularly heard Friday evenings from 6 to 7. Since late September, both El Gringo Show and Outspoken have been underwritten by ACA as part of its broader outreach to city residents. Long a practicing Doctor of Medicine, Mike Newdow is also an atheist father with a law degree, which he now has put into use to challenge the monotheistic reference in the Pledge of Allegiance. On June 26, 2002, US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made a decision in his favor, but after agreeing to hear the case, the US Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit's decision on June 14 of this year. Five of the eight Justices (John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer) did so on the grounds that he lacked standing due to an ongoing custody dispute; the other three (William Rehmquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Clarence Thomas) said that he had standing but that the monotheistic reference is constitutional. The ninth Justice, Antonin Scalia, had recused himself from the case. Allan Campbell spoke with Mike Newdow by telephone, just days before the Texas Atheist and Agnostic Conference, where the justifiably famous attorney was the featured keynote speaker. Campbell suggested to Newdow that five of the eight Justices may have been showing tacit respect for his arguments about the current Pledge's violation of the First Amendment by ruling against him on standing alone.

Newdow responded, "With regard to standing, it was rather ironic that Justice Stevens, for instance--who had previously written how the Court shouldn't use standing to get out of deciding important issues--wrote the opinion that, in fact, was just that; and, contrarily, that Justices Thomas and O'Connor and Chief Justice Rehmquist--the ones who generally are rather parsimonious with standing--were the ones who said, Yeah, he does have standing in this case. It was odd. I think it showed that the Court is comprised of individuals who--all of them--want to reach the results they want to reach, [and] will do so with whatever means they have."

Campbell then asked the attorney why he pursued this particular issue.

Newdow answered, "Well, it actually started off with 'In God We Trust' on the coins and currency. I felt that was clearly unconstitutional, but as I did the research, my daughter was about to enter kindergarten, and I didn't want her having to say the Pledge in school, and it turns out to be a much stronger case, because in 1954 Congress passed a law that did nothing but take a Pledge which already existed, which was secular, and put in the two purely religious words, 'Under God.' And by all the Supreme Court precedent, that's clearly unconstitutional."rn rnCampbell brought up Austin's contradictory status as a fairly enlightened city in the Bible Belt, a place where cars bear competing fish symbols, Christian and defiantly secular. He asked Newdow, who lives in northern California, what responses he has been receiving from everyday people outside the Bible Belt.rn rn"I'm sure I get a very skewed sample, 'cause most people who disagree with me, I assume, don't want to come up and talk with me. But the people who do come, almost ninety-plus percent, are supportive and agree and say, We hope you win, and stuff like that. So, I don't know if I can give a really good sample. I'm sure I can't. From what all the polls say, ninety-plus percent of the population is against me on this. But that, I think, is also interesting, 'cause I don't think they ever ask the proper question. They say, Do you want God in the Pledge? And they say, Yeah. And I think they ought to ask the question--these pollsters should say, Do you want government to get involved with religious questions? And I think we'd probably find a strong majority saying no. And that's the issue here. It's not whether or not God is or isn't in our government. It's whether government is taking any position, one way or the other. I'd be just as much opposed to having a Pledge saying, One Nation That Denies the Existence of God. That too is just as wrong."

When asked about his future plans, Newdow revealed that he would be bringing the challenge again on behalf of various families, hopefully in all eleven circuit courts. "The case is overwhelmingly on my side. The facts, the principles, the ideals are all for me. There is no reason I should lose this case. The arguments against it are completely bogus. And everybody knows that. It's just whether a three-judge panel will say what is quite obvious to everybody. And if they do, it will get back to the Supreme Court."

Purely as an autobiographical anecdote, Campbell described what he personally observed at the Travis County Democratic Convention in late March, not long after Newdow delivered his oral argument before the Court. Local leaders pointedly led delegates in the Pledge, many of whom rebelled, either pausing during the "Under God" part or going straight into "Indivisible." Newdow was awfully surprised, until Campbell explained that most delegates are neither elected officials nor seeking elected office. The host also suggested that local rank-and-file Democrats, particularly ones active during the primary season, could constitute another skewed sample.

"The whole point, you know, is that this is a Pledge of Allegiance," Newdow said, "and it's supposed to be this unifying Pledge. And whether or not you agree with whether or ot we should have Pledges, if you accept that we have one and it's supposed to serve that purpose, look what we've done by sticking in this purely religious dogma. And if I win the case, it's going to be just the same. Everybody's going to be saying, 'One Nation--UNDER GOD!' in the middle of the thing, and that's exactly what you don't want to have in a unifying Pledge. And that's clearly why this thing is unconstitutional. And if I win and 'Under God' is taken out, they'll eventually have to change the entire Pledge, if they want to have a unifying Pledge to follow. . . . If they do the one before '54, the people who want 'God' are going to be yelling out 'Under God' in the middle of it. . . . You're going to have the divisiveness, which is exactly what a Pledge of Allegiance is supposed to preclude."

Campbell offered the argument that what was good for what Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation, the people who served during World War II, ought to be good for us now. Newdow, describing himself as "not a big Pledger," responded that fifteen seconds would be better spent honoring the Constitution or, better yet, discussing it. He reminded listeners that the Framers of the Constitution wanted to keep out religion in order not to divide the people of the United States. "It's liberty and justice for all," Newdow said in the reference to the Pledge, "and since 1954, it's liberty and justice for all people who believe in God."

Campbell then brought up the divisive initiatives being pushed by the leadership of US House of Representatives the previous month in anticipation of November 2, including passage of the so-called Pledge Protection Act, which would deny citizens the right to make any challenges to the Pledge in the federal courts. This piece of legislation, which has not been approved by the US Senate, obviously pertains to Newdow. 

Newdow said that while the US Congress may have the right to restrict the jurisdiction of the federal courts in some areas, to do so with the Bill of Rights (including the First Amendment, which guarantees the separation of church and state) "just wouldn't comport with the whole idea behind the Constitution." He also brought up the issue of checks and balances. Although he was hesistant these days to say what the US Supreme Court would or would not do, he said that he would be very surprised if it let such legislation stand.

Newdow also said, "I think all these governmental endorsements are unconstitutional--'In God We Trust' on the coins and currency; having the Supreme Court start off, 'God save the United States and this Honorable Court'; Presidents sticking in 'So help me, God' in the middle of the Oath, which, in the Constitution, does not have those words. All of that is an endorsement of religion and an endorsement of an idea that there exists a god. Government's not supposed to do that. That's one of the arguments that I find almost laughable, that people always hold against me: They say, Well, if you're going to get 'Under God' out of the Pledge of Allegiance, what are you going to do next--take 'God' off the money? I say, Yeah. You know, it's like, Well, if you're going to get segregation out of the schools, what are you going to do next--take it out of the water fountains? Yeah, that's right. That's exactly what this thing's about. It's for everybody, and none of this stuff is supposed to be there."

Wednesday, September 8, was this year's second and last public hearing on the health textbooks by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). One can visit the Texas Education Agency's website for a transcript. The Texas State Board is scheduled to vote on the textbooks on Friday, November 5.

The stakes in this hearing, in the one that was held on July14, and in the final vote scheduled for November 5 (just three days after the US presidential election) are seen by many as a struggle between science and ideology--in this case, between medically accurate information that can help ensure the health of US youth and evasions that quietly defer to the puritanical fantasies of the religious right. Texas is the second largest textbook market, and the Texas State Board, which votes on the textbooks that can be taught in the state's public schools, essentially serve as gatekeepers. In the attempt to cater to the Bible Belt, publishers sometimes are willing to hedge on, if not disregard, empirically proven findings.rn rnThis year, with the delicate subject of sexuality on the SBOE agenda, publishers of three textbooks have decided to drop any references to contraception, whether it be for birth control or for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which include, but which are far from limited to, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that enables Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Such evasions risk providing students with information that is both misleading and dangerous. The textbook proposed by Holt, Rinehart & Winston, for example, suggests that students "get plenty of rest" to avoid STDs. "When you're tired," it cautions, "it's hard to think." Worse, since the first public hearing on July 14, textbooks have now been revised to deny the effectiveness of even protected sex in preventing the spread of these diseases.rn rnIn a July 28th press release, Dan Quinn, Communications Director of the Texas Freedom Network, reported, "Documents released by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) reveal that publishers have agreed to make reckless new changes to their proposed high school health textbooks. One publisher even equates unprotected and protected sex, calling both 'high-risk behaviors' for acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).rn rn"The changes came at the insistence of state review panelists who evaluated the textbooks in June. The panelists included teachers, parents and other Texas citizens who are not experts in science, medicine or health education.rn rn" 'Replacing no information about sex education in the textbooks with bad information will have dangerous consequences for Texas teenagers,' said Samantha Smoot, president of the Texas Freedom Network. 'To raise responsible, healthy adults, families need the most accurate and reliable information possible, not dangerously misleading facts.'rn rn"Glencoe/McGraw-Hillagreed to change in its Glencoe Health book a list of behaviors that place people at high risk for STDs. The passage (on page 649) had included, 'Engaging in unprotected sex.' The new passage now reads, 'Engaging in either unprotected or protected sex.'"

'Glencoe's change contradicts established medical research,' said Janet P. Realini, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the Texas Medical Association's Committee on Maternal and Perinatal Health. Dr. Realini is also coordinator for Project WORTH, the city of San Antonio's teen-pregnancy prevention program. 'The change would also endanger teens by discouraging efforts to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and other STDs.' "Dr. Realini also said Glencoe failed to correct a part of the same passage stating that barrier protection 'is not effective at all' against humanpapillomavirus (HPV). Some HPV strains can cause cervical cancer. 'Condom use reduces the risk of HPV diseases such as genital warts and cervical cancer,' she said. Dr. Realini pointed out the textbook's error at a July 14 hearing before the State Board of Education (SBOE). [See pages 56 through 64 of the July hearing's transcript.] "The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also notes the importance of latex condoms in preventing STDs, especially HIV: 'Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highlyeffective inrnpreventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.' [That section of the Centers' website was last updated on January 23, 2003. Since then, the federal agency has also been subject to political interference.] "Holt, Rinehart and Winston also made changes to its textbook, Lifetime Health. Holt added more information about the effectiveness of abstinence in preventing unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Yet Holt added nothing about the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods. The Holt and two Glencoe textbooks, Glencoe Health and Health and Wellness, still lack this basic information. The information is required by Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standard 7i. "Thomson/Delmar Learning added nine substantial references to abstinence in its textbook, Essentials of Health and Wellness. Delmar Learning also added information about the effectiveness of condoms and oral contraception." Up until the November vote by the SBOE, Quinn noted, "publishers may make additional changes to the books."rn rnQuinn also reported, "TFN, Planned Parenthood and other organizations have joined together in the Protect Our Kids campaign for responsible health textbooks." In contrast with the July hearing, the hearing on September 8 had a noticeable attendance of right-wing Christian supporters of the textbooks, many of whom were wearing "Abstinence Only" stickers. Most prominent among them were members of the Irving-based Texans for Life Coalition, a fundamentalist group known mostly for its opposition to abortion. (Fellow atheist Amanda Walker, who used to work at an abortion clinic, remembers that group among the religious protesters who shouted that Jesus hated her and her co-workers.) Also opposed to information on contraceptives, the group is basically the antithesis of the strictly secular and medically accurate Planned Parenthood. At the September hearing, the most bizarre, if also quite revealing, moment came with the appearance of a citizen by the name of Jack Ripley, who offered his testimony in the form of a prayer (pages 209 through 211 of the transcript). He said, "Dear Infinite, All-Powerful God of All Creation, I come before Your throne today in the awesome name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Heavenly Father, I pray. I come before You and ask Your forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. I know Your word says 'woe to those who call evil good,' but that is exactly what we have done as a nation. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values." He then went on to say, "We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternate lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it lottery. We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have awarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem. We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it Enlightenment."

Ripley was received warmly by the religious conservatives at the hearing, even eliciting at least one "Amen" from the crowd.

Meeting with an even more sympathetic reception from the fundamentalists was Angel Bell, a high-school junior from Waco, who described herself as a Christian raised by clergy (pages 195 through 197 of the transcript). She said, "[W]hen people say that you should include condoms in these textbooks, I know my father, being a pastor that he is, would not want me to know about condoms and pretty much so that I don't want to sit up in a classroom with a banana trying to put a condom on it. That is not something that I think we should have in school. A banana is to eat and not to demonstrate something like that on." Explaining how she earlier described her stance to someone else, she recollected that she had "said, 'If they're going to do that, they might as well tell them to go ahead and read this Playboy and have fun in classroom,' because that's how lewd and nasty they were. Promoting masturbation and all types of things like that, stuff that I particularly do not believe in, and if a teacher handed me a book like this, I would hand it right back to her and tell her you need some help if you're going to teach this type of thing."

Fortunately, other people relied on science and reason instead of religiously based morality, but they tended to receive fewer questions from the Texas State Board. Also, fewer people in the audience were willing to cheer them on.

Among the people testifying in the name of medical accuracy was Dr. Gordon Crofoot, medical director of the Montrose Clinic in Houston, who in July had attended the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok (pages 82 through 85 of the transcript). At the September hearing, Dr. Crofoot said, "The South, including Texas, has the highest rates of poverty, the worst education statistics, the worst health care statistics, the slowest decline in teen pregnancies, an increase in all STDs and AIDS. The South has increasing abstinence-only educational programs, and decreasing condom use. This is our reality.

"These textbooks do not meet the criteria and are factually and scientifically incorrect in what they say, but their major fault is in what they don't say and the resulting consequences.

"Young people are both our greatest hope for our future, but also our most threatened.

"I have learned through my patients and thousands of scientific studies that fear-based abstinence-only programs are kind of like the Texas father with a shotgun. They don't really work. Abstinence until marriage in theory is 100 percent effective, but in reality fails 88 percent of the time. Condoms in the laboratory are 100 percent effective in preventing viral and sperm transmission, but in life with appropriate education failed only 3 percent of the time. The greatest risk in the world for HIV is being female. The major risks in women are poverty, youth, and being married. "I agree with most of the countries in our world, most of our scientists, public health experts, most religions, 93 percent of our parents. I agree with the United Nations, the American Medical Association, the Texas Department of Public Health. I agree with the past 30 years of the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and NIH [National Institutes of Health]. We all say a comprehensive sex-education program including abstinence is essential for the health of our youth.

"The estimated direct yearly cost to Texans for new teen STDs, HIV, and pregnancy is $1.6 billion. 100 percent abstinence programs [that is, those focused exclusively on abstinence] at best do not affect the incidents of STDs or pregnancies and at worst increased both. If we do nothing, the direct cost over the next 10 years could $10.6 billion. Comprehensive sex-education programs might reduce this cost by 50 percent.rn rn"Can Texas afford this cost? Can Texas afford to support our unwed teen mothers on welfare? Can Texas afford to see our youth get sick? The answer is easy. For you [the members of the SBOE], the answer is obvious. Just say no to these textbooks and [to] 100 percent abstinence programs."rn rnAt the conclusion of his testimony, Dr. Crofoot received no questions from the Texas State Board.rn rnYet at a press conference the day before the hearing, on Tuesday, September 7, the Protect Our Kids campaign announced a new poll that showed 90 percent of Texans in favor of sex education that includes medically accurate information on abstinence, birth control and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. "Publishers and a few State Board members mistakenly think sex education is controversial or somehow political," said Austin parent Susan Moffat. "But parents know better. Parents know that making sure our kids have the most accurate and reliable information is the best protection we have for raising safe, healthy, responsible adults."rn rnWith both hearings concluded, the Texas State Board was scheduled to vote on Friday, November 5. In the meantime, the Protect Our Kids campaign asked Texans to write their State Board of Education member and insist that the textbooks fully conform to state curriculum standards on contraception and the prevention of STDs, including HIV. More information can be found at the Texas Education Agency's website and at ProtectOurKids.comA follow-up account regarding the Texas State Board's vote on November 5 can be found at this website.

Wednesday, July 14, was this year's first public hearing on the health textbooks by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). One can visit the Texas Education Agency's website for a transcript. The Texas State Board is scheduled to vote on the textbooks on Friday, November 5.

The stakes in this hearing, in the one on September 8, and in the final vote scheduled for November 5 (just three days after the US presidential election) are seen by many as a struggle between science and ideology--in this case, between medically accurate information that can help ensure the health of US youth and evasions that quietly defer to the puritanical fantasies of the religious right.

Texas is the second largest textbook market, and the Texas State Board, which votes on the textbooks that can be taught in the state's public schools, essentially serve as gatekeepers. In the attempt to cater to the Bible Belt, publishers sometimes are willing to hedge on, if not disregard, empirically proven findings.

This year, with the delicate subject of sexuality on the SBOE agenda, publishers of three textbooks decided to drop any references to contraception, whether it be for birth control or for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which include, but which are far from limited to, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that enables Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). (This information is supposedly included in "supplemental" materials, but those are not subject to approval by the SBOE; it is also not clear whether students will necessarily see the supplements.) Such evasions risk providing students with information that is both misleading and dangerous. The textbook proposed by Holt, Rinehart & Winston, for example, suggests that students "get plenty of rest" to avoid STDs. "When you're tired," it cautions, "it's hard to think."rn(The source of that advice, a Texas doctor by the name of Joe McIlhaney, Jr., came under fire by the Texas Department of Health for asserting that condoms do not prevent the spread of STDs. Interestingly enough, a fellow Texan, George W. Bush, appointed him to the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.)

The state's own health-education standards require that information on contraceptives and their degrees of effectiveness receive both attention and careful analysis in textbooks. Unfortunately, some publishers are shirking their responsibilities.

In an editorial ("Condom information vital to student's health," July 4), The Austin American-Statesman argues, "Parents and others should send publishers a message by telling their local school officials not to buy the three books that omit information on condoms, should the State Board of Education approve them later this year. Health professionals should also weigh in on the books: 'Health' by Glencoe-McGraw-Hill; 'Health and Wellness' by Glencoe-McGraw-Hill; and [the aforementioned] 'Lifetime Health' by Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

"Just one book contains a brief discussion of condoms, 'Essentials of Health and Wellness', by Thomas Delmar Learning. It might be better to keep old health books now in use because they contain detailed information about abstinence and condoms. The $20 million the state plans to spend on new books could be put to better use, such as programs aimed at keeping students in school.

"In the long term, the [Texas State] Legislature must revoke the authority of the education board to choose textbooks. It's now clear that limiting its authority--as the Legislature did in 1995 to prevent textbook wars over ideology--wasn't enough. Social conservative board members--all Republican--opened loopholes in the law large enough to drive through 18-wheelers. Those loopholes are being used to circumvent state standards for the health textbooks in question."

The testimony at the July 14th hearing was overwhelmingly against the proposed textbooks, with health educators, medical experts, concerned parents and children, and even liberal clergy among the opposition. Few, if any, explicitly religious proponents of the textbooks spoke at this hearing, though representatives of the ultra-right Texas Justice Foundation presented views virtually indistinguishable from the religious right, as did SBOE member Terri Leo, from District 6, representing a portion of Harris County.

A stunning highlight in the hearing was an appearance by Frisco-based attorney Bernard Kaye, a dissenting member of the panel that reviewed the textbooks for the SBOE (pages 32 through 43 of the transcript). "I was in that room for a week," he said. "And I saw what went on. And I objected to the textbook that my group okayed because I was outvoted two to one. And one has to get on with life. But I immediately reserved a place at this proceeding." Kaye said, "I am ashamed of what is not in those books and what they do not cover. I don't claim that putting these things in the books will cure the birth-rate problem amongst unwed teenagers, but it may just help. And certainly not putting it in is not going to help. We have people come up and say, well, parents want no discussion of this. Some parents do want no discussion; others want the discussion. And then we had one person come up and say, well, this is what the White House wants. At the risk of offending everyone . . . what that man in the White House thinks about the sexual education of my grandchildren in Texas doesn't interest me one bit. . . . How dare he interfere. How dare he interfere to get the vote." A less surprising, but also informative, highlight was the appearance of Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, an organization opposed to the religious right in this state (pages 130 through 146 of the transcript). She said, "What matters is: Do these four books meet the Texas curriculum? And I think it is quite, quite clear that they don't. And on behalf of our 17,000 members, I hope you will not vote to approve these books until they contain this lifesaving information." When asked by SBOE member Cynthia Thornton (District 10, which covers, among other places, Travis County) about the publishers' supplements that provide information about the effectiveness of condoms that the textbooks themselves lack, Smoot said, "The information has been segregated into supplements that are separate from the student edition, separate from the teacher editions. That information does not count for your purposes. It has not been submitted. It has--it is not over there. It has not been submitted. Legally, it doesn't count. Now, the publishers--we are not paying for it, either. I mean it comes free with the book to the building or to the teacher. And I know you have spent many years in a classroom. And you know that these kinds of things may end up in the cloak room gathering dust, that it makes it more complicated for the teacher, that these are soft cover. They are not durable. They are going to fall apart. But more to the point, the reason that they put items in a supplement is so that a teacher who is uncomfortable, a superintendent who is uncomfortable, or even a State Board of Education member who is uncomfortable can look the other way because it is not really in the book. And again, I would come back to, if multiplication is important enough to be in the Texas curriculum, it is important enough to be in the math book. And the same thing is true for this lifesaving information."

A little more unexpected was an exchange between Smoot and SBOE member David Bradley from District 7 in Southeast Texas. Bradley, firmly aligned with the religious right, suggested the current round of hearings as a rematch of sorts following the SBOE's vote last year in favor of biology textbooks that discussed evolution with no mention of the rearticulated version of creationism known as "intelligent design." At the conclusion of her testimony this year, he asked Smoot, "You remember our conversation at the end of the biology series. Remember out there in the hall?"

Smoot replied, "I remember it well. I remember when you told me how the vote was going to go down. And then you looked at me and you said, 'But next year, we get to talk about sex,' and you laughed."

Again, the next and last public hearing was held on Wednesday, September 8, before the final vote on Friday, November 5. For more information, one can visit the Texas Education Agency's website or check out this website's follow-up accounts on September hearing and the final vote.

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The Atheist Community of Austin is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting positive atheism and the separation of church and state. The ACA serves the local Austin community through outreach programs, providing informational resources and various volunteer activities. In addition, the ACA serves the community-at-large through free online portals including informational wikis, regular audio/video podcasts and interactive blogs.

We define atheism as the lack of belief in gods. This definition also encompasses what most people call agnosticism.

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