Publishers were put on notice Friday when a divided State Board of Education vowed to reject textbooks with a pro-Islamic and anti-Christian slant, sending a message that critics say promotes fear and prejudice.
The resolution, approved by a 7-6 vote, says that multiple world history textbooks are tainted with views that demonize Christianity and favor Islam.
The move essentially delivers a warning to textbook publishers from one of their largest markets, but it can't force their hand. Texas schoolchildren wouldn't see changes in their history books, if any are made, until the board adopts new ones. Adoption is slated for 2012, though likely will be delayed because of budget constraints.
Various religious leaders were split on the issue, while civil-liberties groups condemned the resolution, which the board debated for about four hours.
"I want our students to learn about the Muslim world," said board member Barbara Cargill, of The Woodlands, who made the motion supporting the resolution. "However, I want other religious groups to be treated fairly."
The vote - which does not bind future boards - was a victory for the current social-conservative majority, which took a hit in the March primary elections.
The board's minority bloc tried to kill the resolution, to postpone the vote to check its accuracy and to revise it so Islam wasn't singled out, but all attempts failed.
"This resolution just seems senseless," said board member Rick Agosto, of San Antonio. "It makes this board look like we're cuckoo, which we are."
News of the textbook resolution thrust the State Board into the national spotlight once again, just as it landed while debating how to address evolution in science classes and what to include in the social studies curriculum.
Board member Lawrence Allen Jr., of Houston, who practices Islam, said the resolution offended him.
"It will never speak for me," said Allen, who works for the Houston Independent School District.
For and against
The idea for the religion resolution was brought up in July by an unsuccessful candidate for the board, Randy Rives of Odessa. Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe said four members asked to put the proposal on the agenda.
Voting for the resolution were Lowe, Cargill, Ken Mercer, Terri Leo, David Bradley, Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar. Those against the resolution were Bob Craig, Mavis Knight, Geraldine Miller, Patricia Hardy, Allen and Agosto. Rene Nunez and Mary Helen Berlanga were absent.
The resolution specifically criticizes three high school history textbooks that are no longer approved for use in Texas classrooms. It said the books, published in 1999, devoted many more lines to Islam than Christianity, and it criticized other texts for including "sanitized definitions of 'jihad' " and "patterns of pejoratives towards Christians."
'Playing on fear'
Kathy Miller, the president of the nonprofit Texas Freedom Network, which often clashes with the board, urged members to adopt a more general resolution calling for balanced treatment of all world religions.
"It is hard not to conclude that the members who voted for this resolution were solely interested in playing on fear and bigotry in order to pit Christians against Muslims," she said.
Mary Bruner, a retired educator from Mineola who addressed the board, applauded its warning to publishers.
"It is easy to see textbook writers have a political agenda when they devote much more space to Islam than to Christianity," she said.