TFN calls for investigation into David Barton’s role in Board of Education campaign
An influential Christian conservative’s involvement with a Board of Education candidate’s campaign is fueling calls for an investigation into whether or not his involvement violates Texas law.
The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) asked district attorneys in Harris and Jefferson counties to investigate whether Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) incumbent Republican David Bradley’s campaign fundraising events “feature the illegal involvement of a prominent political leader who also publishes instructional materials used in Texas public schools.” According to the press release, the involvement of David Barton as a featured speaker at two Bradley fundraisers on Saturday (March 31) in Beaumont and Houston constitutes a violation of the Texas Education code.
In response, Bradley told the Texas Independent that TFN “is not a ‘mainstream, non partisan organization’ as they purport to be.” Bradley claimed that TFN supported the removal of the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms in a recent Supreme Court Case, and that they now don’t support Barton’s right to freedom of speech. “I suspect their pleas to investigate will fall on deaf ears,” said Bradley. “To my knowledge, Mr Barton has never submitted his materials for State adoption. With recent legislation (SB6), school districts are now free to buy anything outside the State adoption process, even at their local Barnes and Noble bookstore.”
“The claim that TFN supports removing the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms is a complete fabrication – we haven’t supported any such thing,” said TFN Communications Director Dan Quinn. Quinn suggested that Bradley’s claim of TFN’s support for the removal of the Pledge refers to a former TFN president’s involvement in a court case seeking to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge. “This also isn’t a free speech issue. Those claims are just pitiful attempts to distract folks from the issue at hand.”
Quinn said that the issue is a state law that TFN claims prohibits people who create and sell instructional materials from helping raise money or campaign for candidates who, if elected, will have the power to adopt or reject instructional materials for Texas public schools. “It’s important to note that Mr. Bradley doesn’t dispute the key fact that David Barton publishes and sells instructional materials,” said Quinn. “Yet he had Mr. Barton speak at two of his campaign fundraising events. This raises troubling questions about Mr. Bradley’s judgment, his respect for the law, potential cronyism and the role of politics in textbook decisions.”
Bradley suggested that the statute itself “is generally acknowledged” by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) legal staff to be unconstitutional. Debbie Ratcliffe, director of Communications and State Board of Education Support for the TEA, told the Texas Independent that the agency had “several times pointed out to the board as they discussed this section that there is an AG opinion holding the… reference in Section 7.108 to be unconstitutionally overbroad.” But Ratcliffe went on to say that the “TEA does not have the authority to hold a statute unconstitutional. It’s just not our decision to make.”
The code reads that “a person engaged in manufacturing, shipping, selling, or advertising instructional materials commits an offense if the person makes or authorizes a political contribution to or takes part in, directly or indirectly, the campaign of any person seeking election to or serving on the board.” However, the opinion cited by Bradley and the TEA, M-1262, was issued in 1972, when the code did not include language referring to “manufacturing, shipping, selling, or advertising instructional materials.”
Bradley is involved in a contentious primary campaign with fellow Republican Rita Ashley, in which they have sparred over residency requirements. The Ashley campaign addressed the issue of Barton’s involvement in the Bradley campaign by releasing a statement that called on the campaign to return all the contributions received “at illegal fundraisers.”
“I’m not surprised Mr. Bradley’s actions have raised ethical questions yet again,” said Ashley. “This isn’t the first time and unfortunately for the people of District 7, Mr. Bradley’s latest disregard of the law makes it clear the best predictor of future behavior is his past behavior.” Ashley was referring to Bradley being indicted along with two other former SBOE members for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act in 2002.
Bradley has has also been criticized for statements he has made about the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts advocacy of teaching critical thinking skills in public schools. As the Houston Chronicle reported, Bradley said during the curriculum debate that “these are the education establishment folks against phonics, spelling, grammar and handwriting, They prefer critical thinking skills, whole language reading, and preparing kids for jobs that don’t currently exist.” Bradley dismissed the group’s proposal as “gobbledygook.”
Barton, former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party and an evangelical minister, is the founder of WallBuilders, an organization that advocates against the separation of church and state. According to the group’s website it is “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”
During the battles surrounding the history curriculum for students in Texas’ public schools, Barton was chosen by Gail Lowe (R-Lampasas) and Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) to testify as an “expert” during the SBOE hearings about the social studies standards. The public testimony of Barton and others ignited criticism over the legitimacy of the religious figures hand-selected to lead history standard revisions. This led to the SBOE adopting new standards for how experts can be selected, and establishing a minimum standard for who can be considered an expert.
In September of 2011 Barton filed a lawsuit against former SBOE Democratic candidates Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, claiming that statements made by them subjected Barton to “public hatred, contempt, ridicule, financial injury and impeaching [Barton’s] honesty, integrity and virtue.” The allegations center around a YouTube video in which the candidates claim that Barton is “known for speaking at white supremacist rallies,” which is likely referring to his speaking engagements at organizations known to be part of the so-called “Christian Identity” movement.
Barton has also been involved in Republican presidential politics. During the run-up to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ill fated presidential campaign Barton was involved in a gathering of thousands of evangelical Christians in Houston called the Response. Critics said Perry was using the event to fuel his presidential aspirations. Barton is also on the board of Renewing American Leadership, or ReAL, which was founded by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich as a nonprofit organization appealing to religious conservatives. In January Barton was among prominent evangelical Christian leaders who met in Texas in an attempt to decide which Republican presidential candidate to endorse.