ACCESS News Kathy Miller


Uploaded by ACCESSNewsUS on 14.11.2011

Transcript:
What should we teach our children about sex?
Are Abstinence-Only Programs effective?
Does our Constitution provide for the common good?
Why would the Texas State Board of Education
remove Thomas Jefferson?
We're forever talking about America, Land of the Free,
but what is freedom?
On ACCESS News,
we'll discuss all this and more with our guest,
Kathy Miller,
Director of the Texas Freedom Network.
You're watching ACCESS News, Hands on News!
[Music]
ACCESS News is pleased to welcome Kathy Miller,
the Director of the Texas Freedom Network,
which acts as the State's watchdog,
monitoring public policy issues
involving the Texas Legislature, religious freedom, civil rights,
and the public education system in Texas.
Kathy is the proud recipient
of the Ms. Foundation's 2011 Women of Vision Award.
Kathy, welcome to ACCESS News!
Thanks so much for having me.
I want to ask you, what's your motivation
behind setting up the Texas Freedom Network?
Well, I actually came to the Texas Freedom Network
after it was founded by
Ann Richards' daughter, Cecile Richards,
and I think I studied political science in college
and philosophy in college, and the Constitution
and the ideas about America as a melting pot
in diversity and tolerance and respect
were embraced by the Texas Freedom Network
and that was something that I really wanted to work
to promote in Texas.
Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States.
He was author of the Declaration of Independence
and a strong advocate for
education or an educated and informed public,
and encouraged active participation in the community.
Why would the Texas Board of Education want to remove him
from curriculum, can you explain that?
Well, the State Board of Education
wasn't removing Thomas Jefferson entirely from the curriculum,
but the argument was about a particular area in world history
where students were being taught to study
important figures in revolutions around the world, 1780-1820.
Clearly, Thomas Jefferson was an important figure
in promoting freedom
through revolutions against dictatorships
and the aristocracy,
especially in the United States, obviously in France.
But Thomas Jefferson was an Enlightenment thinker,
which meant he was moving away from
the Catholic Church and church governing
in particular nations and countries.
And the State Board of Education was really
trying to remove this notion that Enlightenment thinking
was behind the promotion of democracy
and instead they wanted to include religious leaders
to kind of sway students toward an understanding
that it was really all about Christianity promoting freedom.
Religious leaders like who?
Calvin, Blackstone, Thomas Aquinas.
The curriculum standard was about Enlightenment thinkers.
So religious leaders aren't Enlightenment thinkers,
they're religious leaders,
but the Board was very troubled by having a whole standard
just about Enlightenment thinking, because it's secular
and they were arguing that, that wasn't fair or balanced.
They were wrong, but they were arguing that.
It's really interesting that
it seems that the Texas Board of Education,
what is it, it's a group of 15 people and they're so powerful.
We really have to make sure,
those people are voted by us, right, they're elected members?
Yes.
So they obviously have a lot of power
in deciding what is taught or what isn't taught
in our public schools.
So it really seems that, that should...
or that they're motivated
to keep the Abstinence-Only Program,
and sex is a human need, it's innate.
So why is there so much controversy about
how to teach sex education to our children?
Okay. I have to answer two questions.
The State Board of Education is absolutely
one of the most powerful elected bodies in the State,
and if I leave this show saying nothing else,
I feel compelled to say,
they determine the content
of what every child in Texas public schools learns
from kindergarten through graduation, in every class,
and the people of Texas elect these folks
in partisan elections in November.
So if nothing else, I hope that all of your viewers
will pay attention to those elections.
Now onto sex education,
Abstinence-Only is a product of an infusion of federal money
under George Bush when he was President,
and a State Board of Education and a Legislature
who's afraid to really confront the genuine crises
with teen pregnancy and STD infections in our State.
People are uncomfortable talking about sex,
so sex education becomes an uncomfortable thing
for adults to discuss,
but that is why sex education in our public schools
is so important.
Many parents have a hard time
having that conversation with their kids,
so at least if we had it in school
as a way to talk about responsible pregnancy prevention
and more importantly lifetime sexual health.
The analogy I make,
and I don't understand the logic behind denying
students information on sex education,
the analogy is, we teach kids about heart attacks
and they're not likely to have a heart attack when they're 15.
We teach about diabetes,
and they're not likely to get diabetes
in their early adolescence.
So why not teach about sexual health,
because whether you're 16 or 36, at some point
you're going to need that information to be healthy,
and I think our State Board of Education motivated
ideologically is doing a huge disservice to our kids.
I think it's possible that,
you know, they think if we talk about it,
they're going to do it, and
that maybe if we just don't talk about it, they won't do it,
something like that, I don't know.
So you're saying that the Abstinence-Only approach
is not working in reducing teen pregnancy?
Well, Texas has been in the top 5 in teen birthrates.
We have led the nation in multiple births to teenagers.
Our teens are more sexually active
than the average teenagers around the country,
and they take more sexual risks
than teenagers around the country.
So certainly what we're teaching in school
is not having the desired behavioral impact,
and I say, look,
sex education isn't the answer to teen pregnancy,
but it's free and it's one way, it's one thing.
So what is the answer?
Well, there are lots of answers.
The combination of providing good information,
teaching students how to engage in healthy
communication and relationships,
how to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs,
and getting parents and adults involved.
But frankly,
we're never going to solve the problem of teen pregnancy
if we can't get our Legislature
to even talk about sex education.
Grownups who we elect into public positions
need to be mature and responsible
and start addressing this head on.
So really what you're saying is it isn't a
proactive approach to teaching?
Absolutely!
And if we can't do it at the State level,
we need to do it locally,
because local school districts have the option
of teaching more than abstinence.
The Texas Freedom Network,
we failed at the Texas Legislature to pass
comprehensive sex education as a requirement.
So we're working in hundreds of local school districts
around the State to get their districts
to adopt more comprehensive approach, and to date
we have helped improve sex education
for more than a quarter of a million Texas students
in the local approach
and maybe our State leaders will pay attention.
Hopefully.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Governor Rick Perry
and his position related to the HPV vaccine?
Well, Rick Perry's position related to the HPV vaccine
is quite the quandary or the conundrum.
For most of his career,
Perry has walked in lockstep with the far right in our State
and they certainly did not support a mandated HPV vaccine.
It's also kind of contradictory
to support Abstinence-Only sex education,
because you say abstinence is all we expect of our teenagers
and then to mandate a vaccine
that protects against a sexually transmitted disease.
But Rick Perry's promotion of the mandated HPV vaccine
seems much more tied to his relationship with
pharmaceutical companies than anything else,
at least at this point.
And what is that relationship?
One of his close political aides was also tied to Merck,
which is the manufacturer of Gardasil, the vaccine.
So political cronyism
sometimes trumps ideology in Governor's politics.
As you know here on ACCESS News,
we talk a little bit about America's founding documents,
and so I want to take a few minutes
to watch a short video on the First Amendment.
Great!
Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,
or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We're back with Kathy Miller,
Director of the Texas Freedom Network.
Let's take a moment to read the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,
or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So obviously the First Amendment talks about
religion in two different ways;
the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.
So to me, it seems that,
that connection means that government has to stay neutral
related to religion
and that religion should be an individual's choice.
What's your interpretation?
Well, you've hit the nail on the head,
but the understanding of the word neutrality
is sometimes confused by the American public
and certainly by some of our elected officials.
Neutrality doesn't mean
that elected leaders can't use faith
to guide their own decision making,
speak about their own faith and personal faith motivations,
or encourage
their family and friends and others to pursue faith.
That is the free exercise,
embracing everyone's right to have...
practice the faith of their choice or no faith at all,
and to involve it in our government dialogue,
our political dialogue.
The neutrality comes from the establishment clause,
which really prohibits government
from engaging in anything that would promote one
particular religious belief over all others.
That's really what the Anti-Establishment Clause says
and how it's been interpreted by the courts,
and that's what's meant by neutrality.
Unfortunately, some folks for political gain
seize upon the word neutrality
and they pretend we've kicked God out of public life.
God isn't chewing gum.
You can't put Him on somebody's nose in the classroom,
you can't kick God out,
and the Establishment Clause doesn't do that.
We just don't want anyone's faith to be belittled
by our government or any public figure.
And Article VI in the Constitution says that,
no religious test shall be required as admission to
an elected office or a role within the US public trust.
So can you explain a little bit about what that means,
like a religious test, what would that look like?
Well, I mean, in this country historically,
there have been clashes between
the Protestants and the Catholics.
Now we're seeing a lot of Islamophobia.
The point behind Article VI was
that no one's religious practices or beliefs would be
a qualification for office or used in any way
as a measure upon which we can or cannot elect folks.
So when John Kennedy, the Catholic, ran
for President in the 60s, he had to say,
my faith will have absolutely no impact on my governing.
We've come a long way since then.
We now have Governor Perry
who essentially used a Christian prayer rally
to launch his presidential campaign.
I believe that, that was an absolute misuse of faith
as a campaign prop
and I don't think our elected leader should do that.
I'm glad you brought that up,
because I really wanted to ask... kind of pick your brain
about what you think
Rick Perry's presidency would look like,
if he were to win the presidency.
I'm getting a lot of phone calls
at the Texas Freedom Network about
who is the real Rick Perry?
What is the real Rick Perry?
Rick Perry has made the transition
from Democrat to Republican, right?
He used to be a Democrat, although in Texas
they kind of looked the same back then.
And he's made the transition from a little bit more moderate
to very far to the right.
My answer to the question about Rick Perry is,
it's hard for me to predict
what a Rick Perry presidency will look like,
because Rick Perry seems to make policies based on
which way the political winds are blowing,
whatever might be the most politically astute decision.
I don't think that's the best way to govern,
but that does seem to be the way
that Rick Perry's politics have tracked
as he's been an elected official.
I want to go back to the Constitution for just a moment.
The Texas Board of Education,
they have prohibited the teaching of the Constitution
saying that it can't prevent government from
choosing one religion over others.
Why is that? What's your perspective on that?
That was one of the most disappointing moments
for all of us at the Texas Freedom Network.
So we teach the Constitution,
the State Board hasn't banned teaching the Constitution,
but an amendment was offered
to the Curriculum Standards for US History
that said, students will be taught
that the Constitution bars government
from promoting or favoring one religion over all others,
which is absolutely true.
And it was defeated
because Christian conservatives on the State Board of Education
are very much about promoting America
as a Judeo-Christian nation,
which in and of itself
does promote one religious perspective
or two religious perspectives over all others.
It was a huge defeat, because essentially,
we had a Board member waving a $100 bill saying,
I'll give a $100 to anybody that can
find separation of church and state in the Constitution.
Because no, those words aren't there,
but for 200 plus years the courts have interpreted
the First Amendment to provide for that separation,
and the State Board of Education
in one single afternoon said, nope, sorry,
200 years of history versus us.
Really, based on just 15 people, that's so amazing.
So with this kind of ongoing struggle
with separation between church and state,
do you foresee maybe one day
finally we will be able to get clarity
and identify those two particular roles?
Well, I think two things.
Again, I'm going to answer two questions.
First, 15 partisan politicians should not
have the sole authority to determine
educational content for 4.7 million Texas students.
And we've been working
at the Texas Freedom Network at the Legislature
and through local networks of grassroots activist to promote
that teachers in our classrooms and scholars
from our colleges and universities
need to have a much bigger role in making those decisions.
If we're getting kids ready for college and the jobs
at the 21st Century,
then the teachers and the scholars of the 21st Century
ought to be making those decisions,
not partisan politicians.
If we did that,
we could eliminate all the political politicizing
of our curriculum standards
and really get down to the business of educating kids.
On the side of,
you know, separation of religion and state,
religious freedom and the Establishment Clause,
this is a tension.
I think the founders built that tension
into the First Amendment of the Constitution for a reason.
A robust conversation about faith and politics
makes for a very robust democracy.
I think that's all fine.
The problem is when any one group seizes power
and does so for a prolonged period of time,
and I think we're seeing some reaction against that now.
I have faith in the American voter
and I really do think that we're going to work this out.
Really with the position that... right now it's such a challenge
to change people's minds and their perspective.
What motivates you to keep up with your work
in the Texas Freedom Network, what's your motivation?
Well, this is crazy, but I love my country.
I love the Constitution. I love the First Amendment.
I believe in public education.
I think it's the great equalizer in our society.
I come from a very passionate place about these things
and I love the work that I do,
because every day I know that I'm working on things
that I care deeply about.
On a personal level,
I have two teenage daughters in public schools
and I live every day
with the importance of what those schools teach
and how my daughters' own beliefs are
respected or not respected in public schools.
So in a personal way I want my kids to have
every option available to them possible.
And freedom is about that.
So working to promote freedom in Texas is really important to me,
both inside my own belief structure
and with respect to being a mom.
Really the key word of this interview I think is freedom.
What is freedom? How would you define that?
I think really it's become kind of a vague term.
What's your definition?
I think freedom is the ability for individuals to
reach their full potential
and make choices about their own interests,
their own beliefs,
their own speech,
their own associations,
so long as their own freedom
doesn't stand in the way of other people
achieving their potential through those same actions.
And that's a balancing act, that's why we need government,
that's why the Constitution is so important.
But I think we lose sight of
freedom being about a thriving democracy,
producing diverse ideas, and lots of dialogue
when we fall prey to the far rights notion
that there's black and white answers to everything.
I think freedom promotes living in the gray matter and searching
and spending a life kind of questing for those answers,
instead of just knowing them when you're 12.
What can we, the citizens, do to help be a part of that change?
Well, first, go to TFN.org
and become an activist on these issues.
We will send you alerts when any of this is happening.
If you've signed up to be a Rapid Response Team member,
we'll send you alerts when the State Board is meeting
or when these decisions are being made.
The State Board of Education
and the Texas Legislature are both webcast,
so no matter where you are, you can watch them.
I understand for the deaf community
that's more challenging,
so let me offer to work to help partner with someone
to get some interpreters to help do that.
And I think the deaf community can demand that,
and it would be very hard for the Legislature to say no.
I also think though
that you can sign up to follow organizations
and advocacy organizations like the Texas Freedom Network
or others that support what you believe in.
And even if you're a member of the deaf community
through Twitter and Facebook and their websites,
they will keep you updated on what's happening.
And every citizen who raises their voice,
who calls their elected leaders,
who sends a letter, or sends an email,
counts as almost 10,000 people,
because so few people take action.
And I know in this political world,
people get kind of dejected
or they feel like they can't make a difference,
but I swear, if we get 100 people to call
a member of the Legislature,
they call me and they say, I'm with you.
Get your people to stop.
So we need folks to do that.
Take action, write, send a letter,
it really does make a difference.
Okay. Now, in closing,
what do you want our viewers to take away today
about your program?
Well, I said before, I think paying attention
to the State Board of Education is really important.
It's no longer a sleepy little corner of government
and they're making really important decisions.
And I think to just think about the positions
that some of our elected leaders are taking and ask yourself,
does this make sense for everybody?
Does this help everybody in our State improve their lives?
And if the answer is no, then work to change that.
Thank you Kathy for being with us today on ACCESS News.
It's been great. I really appreciate you.
You may learn more about Kathy
at the Texas Freedom Network website,
TFN.org,
and you may ask questions and share your comments and opinions
on our website, that's accessnews.us.
Like us on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.
One beautiful thing about America
is that we, the people, have power.
The more we know, the better decisions we can make.
For ACCESS News, I'm Tamara, and that's Austin.
Thank you.
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Hi! I am Tamara, host of ACCESS News.
Join me as I talk with renowned scientists, community advocates,
powerful business leaders, and politicians
from both sides of the aisle.
Join me and Kathy Miller,
Director of the Texas Freedom Network,
when we discuss freedom, sex, religion, civil liberties,
our public schools, and more.
Join me each Sunday at 1 p.m. on KLRU Austin
for ACCESS News, Hands on News!