This week, the board overseeing the third-largest school district in Texas voted to remove 13 chapters from five science textbooks. The subjects deemed “controversial” by all but one of the Cy-Fair ISD trustees included vaccinations, cultural diversity, human growth and development, climate change, and humans’ impact on the environment.

The decision to omit these materials means the district — already facing a $138 million budget shortfall and 600 staff cuts — will have to develop its own curriculum in order to remain in compliance with statewide standards. Short on resources, it’s possible the district could turn to a state-approved vendor to fill the gap.

As of last August, one such vendor is PragerU. Only a couple months after the disinformation nonprofit announced its expansion into Texas classrooms, a Houston-area district was caught showing students at 73 elementary and middle schools a PragerU video denying any link between human activity and climate change.

PragerU first got its foot in the public schoolhouse door in Florida, where officials voted in 2023 to allow its materials in preK-12 classrooms. Oklahoma, Montana, and New Hampshire quickly followed. In Texas, PragerU took advantage of districts’ broad discretion to shape curricula and a new law allowing curriculum providers to apply for state endorsement. (They also took $8 million from evangelical fracking billionaires, Farris and Dan Wilks.)

PragerU’s founder, Dennis Prager, has admitted his mission is to indoctrinate as many students as possible with “Judeo-Christian and American values.” In the PragerU-niverse, these are one and the same. Like other Christian nationalists, Prager and his nonprofit promote the false claim that the United States was founded on biblical principles. One video (screenshot below) purports to contrast Judeo-Christian values with secular values and is titled, “If There Is No God, Murder Isn’t Wrong.”

The traction the anti-fact crowd is gaining in state legislatures and on school boards across the country is an unfathomable loss for society at large. Texas and Florida public schools alone educate about eight million students. What will attacks on evidence-based education mean for the future of our country and of the world? Nothing good.

One of the chapters the Cy-Fair ISD board removed this week included a section that begins by asking, “Why do I need a flu shot every year?” That routine and life-saving immunizations are now considered contentious is already having major implications on public health, and that threatens us all.

Anti-vaccine advocates have successfully lobbied for religious or moral exemption laws in all but five states. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that rates of routine childhood vaccinations hit a 10-year low, meaning hundreds of thousands of kindergarteners are now at risk for hospitalization or death from measles. Meanwhile, in The Deadly Rise of Anti-science, Dr. Peter Hotez estimates 200,000 Americans died preventable deaths during the Delta-variant surge of the coronavirus pandemic because of “a networked political ecosystem of anti-science extremism.”

Disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories are rapidly eroding the public’s trust in government, schools, and science. As people are exposed to these distortions, they become more susceptible to other delusions, and research has found no easy solution to combat it.

I’m proud of the work American Atheists is doing every day to fight religious overreach. It’s not easy, and we don’t always win, but we are one of the few obstacles standing in the way of Christian nationalists and the anti-science movement.

A gift of $25, $45, or $100 helps us keep fighting to ensure the policies that touch all our lives are based on facts, not faith.

In solidarity,

Nick Fish

American Atheists is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan, nonprofit educational organization that relies on the support of members like you. Contributions are tax-deductible. Our Federal Tax ID Number is 74-2466507 and our Combined Federal Campaign number is 52217.

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