Texans for Truth Rally Gets Positive Press

Yesterday was the Texans for Truth rally, urging elected officials to fight back against the revisionist history being proposed by the conservatives on the state’s Board of Education.

They had a lot of supporters there and some very positive coverage in the local media:

As the video points out, the revisionist history that’s being proposed would deemphasize Thomas Jefferson, among other things.

Christopher Hitchens wasn’t present at the rally but he did send along a message, which was read out loud:

We know of no spectacle more ridiculous — or more contemptible — than that of the religious reactionaries who dare to re-write the history of our republic. Or who try to do so. Is it possible that, in their vanity and stupidity, they suppose that they can erase the name of Thomas Jefferson and replace it with the name of some faith-based mediocrity whose name is already obscure? If so, we cheerfully resolve to mock them, and to give them the lie in their teeth.

Without Thomas Jefferson and his Declaration of Independence, there would have been no American revolution that announced universal principles of liberty. Without his participation by the side of the unforgettable Marquis de Lafayette, there would have been no French proclamation of The Rights of Man. Without his brilliant negotiation of the Louisiana treaty, there would be no United States of America. Without Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, there would have been no Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, and no basis for the most precious clause of our most prized element of our imperishable Bill of Rights — the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

We make no saint of Thomas Jefferson — we leave the mindless business of canonization and the worship of humans to the fanatics — but aware as we are of his many crimes and contradictions we say with confidence that his memory and example will endure long after the moral pygmies who try to blot out his name have been forgotten.

As Abraham Lincoln died, after a cowardly shot in the back from a racist traitor, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sighed and said: “Now he belongs to the ages”. Or did he say “Now he belongs to the angels”? In a roomful of highly literate and educated officers and physicians, in an age of photography and stenography, and with newspaper presses around the corner on Pennsylvania Avenue, there was no agreement among eye-and-ear witnesses as to what Stanton had actually said.

Those of us who write and study history are accustomed to its approximations and ambiguities. This is why we do not take literally the tenth-hand reports of frightened and illiterate peasants who claim to have seen miracles or to have had encounters with messiahs and prophets and redeemers who were, like them, mere humans. And this is also why we will never submit to dictation from those who display a fanatical belief in certainty and revelation. They try to tell us that to do otherwise is to collapse into “relativism”. But it is they who wish to promote the life and work of Jefferson Davis — an advocate of slavery, backwardness, treason and disunion — to an equality with Lincoln, who suffered agonies of doubt, who never joined a church, who was born on the same day as Charles Darwin and who introduced his colleagues to the work of Thomas Paine — and who was the last brave casualty of a war: a war begun by devout and fanatical Christians, that preserved our Union and in the end led to the striking of the shackles from every slave. It was inscribed in the documents of the Confederacy that the private ownership of human beings had a divine warrant. And so it did — to the everlasting shame of those who take the Bible as god’s word.

It is notorious that the news of the Emancipation Proclamation was kept from the people of Texas and not celebrated until “Juneteenth”. There may be those in Texas now who believe they can insulate their state — a state that had its own courageous revolution — from the news of evolution and from the writing in 1786 of a Constitution that refuses to mention religion except when demarcating and limiting its role in the public square. But we promise them today that they will join their fore-runners in the flat earth community, and in the mad clerical clique of those who believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Yes, they will be in schoolbooks — as a joke on the epic scale of William Jennings Bryan. We shall be fair, and take care to ensure that their tale is told.

As President, Thomas Jefferson received a letter from a concerned group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut. These people were the objects of persecution and the victims of discrimination, and they beseeched Jefferson to uphold their liberties. Of whom were they afraid? It should be remembered, and taught in our schools, that these poor Baptists were afraid of the Congregationalists of Connecticut, who subjected their fellow-Christians to insult and insecurity. Thus it was the secular and unbelieving Jefferson who insisted that, by means of a “wall of separation” between religion and government, all faiths and communities could take shelter under the great roof of the godless Constitution. From that day to this, the only guarantee of religious pluralism has been the secular law.

We inherited these principles and these freedoms and we here highly resolve that we shall pass them on, as we will pass on an undivided Republic purged of racism and slavery, to our descendants. The popgun discharges of a few pathetic sectarians and crackpot revisionists are negligible, and will be drowned by the mounting chorus that demands: “Mr Jefferson! BUILD UP THAT WALL”.

– Christopher Hitchens

American Atheists president Ed Buckner gave a speech as well:

I’m Ed Buckner, the President of American Atheists, and I was educated in Texas — junior high in Webster, TX, high school in League City, TX, college in Houston — and my Daddy, a conservative and, unlike me, a Christian, was a school board member for the Clear Creek Independent School District. He died in 1996, but if he were alive now I know he’d be appalled at the Texas State Board of Education. Many things are wrong with the curriculum changes they’re considering, and I’m going to address one major problem, but the overall problem is simple — they want to indoctrinate the students of Texas, not educate them. They’re afraid of letting scientists and historians decide what science and history to teach. They want their anti-scientific, religious, and political prejudices taught, not real science and history. To which we say, Indoctrination, NO! Education, YES! — Indoctrination, NO! Education, YES!

You may have heard of that revolutionary American writer who was also this nation’s third president, who wrote Notes on Virginia, who won fame as an inventor, an architect, an agricultural expert, and a writer of thousands of letters, who was Governor of Virginia (which included then the area now called Kentucky), who also served us as Ambassador to France and as Secretary of State, who as president doubled the size of the USA with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, under whose administration America won its first military victory against Islamic terrorists — pirates in the Mediterranean — and whose face is on every American nickel and on every two-dollar bill. This man — Thomas Jefferson, of course — is being downplayed by the Texas State Board of Education because they don’t like his religious views or his role in the separation of church and state. Jefferson was not a god or anything like a perfect man. He hated slavery but he owned slaves. He was, like most men of his time, a racist and was probably as much of a sexist as Phyllis Schlafly. Jefferson was called an “atheist” by his enemies, and he was indeed no orthodox Christian — he wrote that he did not accept that Jesus was divine, did not believe in the resurrection or atonement, etc. — but he did believe in an afterlife and in a designer god. Jefferson died 33 years before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published, so in Jefferson’s lifetime there was no reasonable, well-supported theory of human evolution. But the truth is what matters and no one — including the Texas State Board of Education — should try to rewrite history. Jefferson was a genius and he was easily America’s most original and revolutionary thinker and writer. The Texas State Board of Education doesn’t want to emphasize the real Jefferson; they want indoctrination. To which we say, Indoctrination, NO! Jefferson, YES! — Indoctrination, NO! Jefferson, YES!

Now, if Thomas Jefferson did not focus primarily on being President or enlarging the nation geographically or winning wars, what did he care about, and how do we know? We know because he wrote out, very specifically, what achievements should be put on his grave marker — and he listed three — and only three — things. First, he was the “author of the Declaration of American Independence,” the thing he is most famous for writing, the document known worldwide for changing the world’s understanding of freedom. People all over the world “hold these truths to be self-evident” because Thomas Jefferson wrote about them so eloquently, so stirringly. The Texas State Board of Education wants less independence and more indoctrination. To which we say, Indoctrination, NO! Independence, YES! — Indoctrination, NO! Independence, YES!

Jefferson listed second on his marker something else that he was proud of having written, something not nearly as well known but maybe even more important: “The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom.” That Virginia law declares among other things, “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” That law, written by Jefferson but passed mostly with James Madison’s leadership while Jefferson was in France, became widely famous in the late 1700s and is usually regarded as the key basis for the First Amendment to the US Constitution — the foundation of separation of church and state that is so despised and misunderstood by the Texas State Board of Education. They want indoctrination. To which we say, Indoctrination, NO! Religious Freedom, YES! — Indoctrination, NO! Religious Freedom, YES!

And the third thing Jefferson asked to be remembered for was as “Father of the University of Virginia.” That university was the first secular one in America, a university that Jefferson founded and that he proudly declared would not have a theology department. He wrote to a colleague that he expected strong opposition to the university from “the priests of the different religious sects, to whose spells on the human mind its improvement is ominous.” Like the Texas State Board of Education, those opponents wanted indoctrination. To which we say now, as Jefferson did then, Indoctrination, NO! Education, YES! — Indoctrination, NO! Education, YES!

So, in summary, Jefferson wanted and worked for what we want, what we demand today: Independence — individual rights and political liberty; Religious Freedom — including the freedom to not be religious; and Education, real education. Finally, I’d like to call your attention to some words of Jefferson that are prominently displayed at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. These are words from Jefferson, in a letter he wrote when he was about to become president, a letter to his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, about what Jefferson called “the irritable tribe of priests” whose schemes of establishment, of government support for their religious ideas, he despised. They feared, he wrote, that he would oppose them. And, said Jefferson, they believed rightly. He wrote these words, words which could just as well have been written for today’s Texas State Board of Education: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” To which we, even those of us with no belief in any altars or any gods, say Indoctrination, NO! Education, YES! — Indoctrination, NO! Education, YES! Thank you.

– Ed Buckner

Will it make a difference? I don’t know. But this isn’t an atheist issue. We need more support from religious people. We need support from everyone who cares about children getting a decent education.

  • Jose

    It was a great rally! It would have been nice to have seen more people out there but we all start somewhere. Chris Hitchen’s message was a high point as was that quiet lady sitting on the bench holding a sign “A Christian who is fed up with the SBOE.” Thanks to all who came out.

  • Bob

    It may not be a purely atheist issue, but no matter where you’re coming from, it runs right into the wall of ignorance built by the yahoos on the Texas School Board.

    How DO you fight this institutionalized, faith-protected stupidity?

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    The sad thing is that it is almost guaranteed that at least 51% of Texans would “root” for the school board textbook changes just to make atheists mad. The politicians on the school board know this. Its just another example of the tyranny of the majority. With the loss of the “middle” in American politics, this is just a sign of things to come.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    As these “people” are laying the very real groundwork for the certain destruction of the U.S. Constitution, it is my not-so-humble opinion that they should be arrested, tried for sedition and executed.
    Fortunately for them, this will not happen for a number of reasons, most of them legal, of course. My wish is merely a pipe dream fantasy at this point.
    Regardless of what anyone thinks should or should not happen to these turds, there need to be stronger Constitutional and educational safeguards in place that would prevent this type of thing ever happening again.
    Okay, I said my part.
    Let the bizarre left-wing hysterics and ad hominem attacks commence…

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Reading this, I wish those people with the closed minds would hear these two speeches and how focused they are on the principles that America was founded on. The narrow-minded group of religious nuts that pushed this forward ignore them for who they are in the media, not for their intellect in understanding the damage this decision will do to the country. While they tout their patriotism, the Texas Board of Education does not care one bit. It’s all about their beliefs and agenda. And mindless followers will applaud this as a landmark decision to “restore America”

    Sad day for America and education.

  • Bob

    @Godless:

    Nope, I’m right there with you. We’re heading for a Civil War (more like a sectarian slugfest) and a new Dark Ages.

    Provided I survive without being hauled off to jail as an apostate unbeliever, forced to recant, or burned at the stake and all my heretical books burned for the glory of God, I will endeavor to teach and preserve the knowledge we (hopefully) will one day understand we need. And when we say, ‘never again’ – we mean it.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    Well, hopefully some of the folks on our “side” will get smart and learn to use the tactics of the enemy (Rupert Murdoch and friends)in order to sway public opinion. That way we could possibly avoid any…unpleasantness.
    It’s usually (not always)the case, however, that “intellectuals” are more concerned about winning arguments with these morons than actually making progress. Nothing gets their little hearts aflutter more than beating a dumbass in a debate. The problem with these debates is that the dumbass doesn’t know he’s lost. Nothing changes as a result. It’s irrefutable…reality is irrelevant.
    The general public isn’t going to be motivated by facts or even moral arguments that aren’t delivered in quick, emotional sound bites and appeal to their basest motives and fears. As long as we have a populace that is not capable of making informed decisions based on critical thought, we are limited to two options: force or manipulation via effective and targeted propaganda. I’ll go with using the latter approach first.

  • http://www.doctorlizardo.blogspot.com/ DrLiz

    What cracks me up is the Google ad for blessedsacrament.com : “Become an apostle of the Eucharist.” Holy inappropriateness, Batman!

  • TexasMa

    Just a little info that was left out of this article:

    Thomas Jefferson was a Freemason. You will never find a dyed-in-the-wool Freemason that believes in Jesus Christ as divine, believes in the atonement or believes in the resurrection. That doesn’t make him an atheist that makes him, well, a Freemason, so, sorry boys. You missed out on that one.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @TexasMa,
    Nobody in this thread, the original posting OR in the articles referenced, state that Jefferson is an atheist. Did you really think you are the only one with access to the knowledge that he was a Freemason?
    It’s irrelevant anyway. So other than trying to be smug, what was your point?

  • Jeff Dale

    TJ was also a deist. He believed in a creator god, as did many at the time, since there was not yet any working theory of evolution to explain where all the species came from. He decried dogma and had no use for the various forms of organized religion. He also strongly believed that religious opinions were a matter solely between each person and his god, which is part of why he was so firm in defending religious freedom. That he was not an atheist is irrelevant. If we can’t persuade most modern religious people to become atheists, we’d still be a lot better off if most of them emulated Jefferson.

  • muggle

    God, I hope this makes a freaking difference. I can’t believe the absurd changes that they are just trying to railroad through.

    Not just making this out to be a Christian nation either but the whole cutting down of major civil rights leaders. Where the heck is the race card when the racism is so blatantly obvious?

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @muggle,

    “Where the heck is the race card when the racism is so blatantly obvious?”

    There’s probably many reasons why minorities aren’t being more vocal about this. I could be way off base on some or all of these reasons and just talking out my keester, but this is my take on the situation:
    1)The race card has been used and abused for decades in situations in which its relevance was questionable at best, so any mention of race now is like crying wolf…few people care or believe.
    2) Note how the black vote worked against gay rights in California. There doesn’t seem to be an interest in civil rights except insofar as it effects them, meaning specifically African Americans.
    3) Despite the racist overtones of some of these changes, many African Americans and other minorities find comfort in fundamentalist Christian values.
    4) Some are just scared shitless of a redneck backlash.

  • Maury

    I live in Texas and nothing scares me so much as facing a “jury of my peers” down here. The ignorance and lack of common sense is amazing.

  • MisterDomino

    For those who are interested, the AHA (American Historical Association) May issue of “Perspectives” has an entire series on teaching controversial topics in the classroom:

    Perspectives Online 48:5 / May 2010

  • http://treymorton.blogspot.com Trey

    A few pictures and panoramas from the rally:

    http://treymorton.blogspot.com/2010/05/texans-for-truthful-textbooks-rally.html

    I couldn’t stay and get images from the whole thing.

    .trey

  • simone

    Imagine if, thirty years from now, the President of the United States doesn’t know who Thomas Jefferson was. We have to think of the next generation of Americans, and not just our own prejudices and fears, when we make these kinds of weighty choices.


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