Texas Curriculum Review Sparks Debate About Religion

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The debate about whether to teach religious-based social studies in Texas public schools has dominated a broader discussion about the schools' curriculum, which is undergoing a review by state officials hoping to improve the nation's second-largest school system.

The outcome could possibly influence the textbooks used by students in other parts of the country where there appears to be little or no lobbying for such religious-based material.

Of the six experts appointed in the spring by the 15-member Texas Board of Education to review the state's K-12 curriculum, three have said they would like to see more attention paid to the religious aspects of American history.

"The foremost problem that I see is that there is not nearly enough emphasis or credit given to the biblical motivations of America's settlers and founders," Evangelical minister Peter Marshall, the president of the Massachusetts-based Peter Marshall Ministries and one of the experts on the panel, told ABCNews.com.

"Our children need to know the truth about how our country got started," Marshall said.

"You never read about how the founding fathers were nearly all Christian believers and that it is their biblical world view that shaped the way they thought and achieved what they did," he said.

While the reviews written by Marshall and the other experts aren't guaranteed to be adopted, the final decision -- after social studies teachers across the state make changes and additional recommendations to the curriculum -- rests in the hands of a board whose majority is conservative.

David Barton, president of the Texas-based Christian heritage advocacy group WallBuilders, is another expert on the panel who would like to see changes made to the school curriculum.

What's U.S. History Without Religion

"I think there should be more of an emphasis on history in the social studies curriculum," Barton said. "If there is an emphasis on history, there will be a demonstration of religion."

In his written review of the curriculum, for example, Barton argues that in order for fifth-grade students to fully understand how the American government was formed, they must also understand that it was rooted in religion.

"Students must also understand the framers' very explicit (and very frequent) definition of inalienable rights as being those rights given by God," Barton wrote.

Barton told ABCNews.com that he believes Texas' public school curriculum should "reflect the fact that the U.S. Constitution was written with God in mind."

But Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, an organization he says is dedicated to countering the conservative religious right in the state, said that what Barton and Marshall are proposing is a direct violation of the separation of church and state.

"This is an attempt to politicize the curriculum and promote an agenda over the education of nearly 5 million Texas kids," Quinn said.

Asked about the criticism that he is pushing a religious agenda on a public school system, Barton said he doesn't know how "it's an agenda, it's just a part of history that certainly should be presented."

Marshall said, "If you're going to properly teach American history, you need to teach the Christian world view motivation of the people who made the history."

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