State Board of Education Chair Questions Faith of Fellow Board Members (Video)

Expect some awkward moments at the State Board of Education next week as new chair Barbara Cargill defends herself against videotaped remarks she made that are now being circulated by the Texas Freedom Network.

The Texas Freedom Network, which advocates for separation of church and state and opposes SBOE's conservative bloc, takes pleasure in parsing and analyzing the comments of the board's conservatives. In this case, Cargill, a Republican from The Woodlands, was explaining the fact that the number of conservatives on the SBOE was down to six, making it harder to build a majority.

"Unfortunately, we did lose a conservative seat in the last election, so right now there are six true conservative Christians on the board, so we now have to fight for two votes," Cargill told members of the Texas Eagle Forum (at the 8:00 mark on the video above). "Whereas, in previous years, we had to fight to get one vote to get the majority."

Bob Craig, a Republican attorney from Lubbock and Cargill's vice chair, chafed at the remark and wasted no time picking up the phone to call Cargill.

"I was offended that her comments seemed to indicate that only six people on the board were Christians," Craig said. "I am a Christian and very active in First United Methodist Church here in Lubbock. I have very strong religious beliefs, so that kind of comment did not sit well with me."

Cargill, a former science teacher who home-schooled her own children, was named chair of the 15-member SBOE after the Senate failed to confirm Gail Lowe during the most recent regular session. Lowe, who is conservative but was generally considered to be an evenhanded chair by most board observers, was appointed when the Senate failed to confirm former board member Don McLeroy. McLeroy, who recently lost his seat on the board, is most often referred to scathingly in pro-science blog circles as "the creationist dentist."

Cargill could not be reached for immediate comment to clarify her remarks to the Eagle Forum. Craig said he had talked with the incoming chair, and she had apologized for the remark. Thomas Ratliff -- he being the occupant of the lost conservative seat -- issued his own statement on Cargill's remarks.

"It's an unfortunate start to her tenure as chairwoman," said Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant. "These kind of comments only further divide the board rather than bring us together for the benefit of our students and our schools. I look forward to better days ahead for our new chair."

Next week's agenda will not be an easy one for Cargill. The board is slated to approve supplemental science materials that will include the controversial "examining all sides of scientific theories" language inserted by board conservatives into the knowledge and skills surrounding evolution. Already, pro-creation groups are gearing up to rally behind their preferred materials.

The Texas Freedom Network and Liberty Institute, the two groups most involved in monitoring the SBOE, issued dueling statements on Cargill's comments. TFN called Cargill "yet another ideologue sitting as chair of a sharply divided and deeply politicized board." The Liberty Institute called the TFN comments a personal attack on Cargill's religious beliefs and called TFN's comments "character assassination."

SBOE meets Wednesday through Friday of next week.

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