Religion in Schools | Media Matters for America

Religion in Schools

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  • After Betsy DeVos can't answer simple questions on 60 Minutes, Fox & Friends guides her through softball interview

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After embarrassing herself on CBS’ 60 Minutes, one of President Donald Trump’s controversial cabinet appointments, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, retreated to the administration's safe space on Fox & Friends, where she was asked easy questions and not challenged on the specifics of a school safety commission she will chair.

    In a March 11 interview with 60 Minutes anchor Leslie Stahl, DeVos struggled to provide evidence in support of “school choice,” her signature issue, stumbled when challenged on her claims, and failed to answer even basic questions about schools in her home state. When pressed to say whether there are as many false accusations as actual sexual assaults on college campuses -- which fits into a long-standing right-wing media myth that the problem of sexual assault is overblown -- DeVos said, "I don't know."

     

    The next day, Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends interviewed her as well, feeding DeVos unspecific, open-ended questions and leaving her claims unchallenged. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt simply asked DeVos for her “reaction” to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) criticism of the Trump administration’s inaction on gun safety. Later, Earhardt’s co-host Brian Kilmeade asked DeVos to explain what HuffPost columnists “don’t understand” in response to the outlet’s criticism of “school choice” policies. From the March 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends (questions are bolded for ease of reading):

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Madam secretary, we've been going through some of the things on the agenda that the president and the White House would like to get done. But ultimately it sounds like the ultimate goal would be to harden the schools. Would that be accurate?

    BETSY DEVOS: Well, Steve, that's one of the opportunities we have and one of the responsibilities we have, frankly. We have many other venues in our country that are kept safe, and schools have to be a part of that equation as well. And every state and every community is going to do this slightly differently, but we’re going to advance ways in which schools can be made safer for students. And in which -- which works for each community and for each state.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Madam secretary, thank you so much for being on with us. Chuck Schumer -- he is not on board with this plan. This is what he had to say., and let's get your reaction. ... It’s a statement: “The White House has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset the NRA when the gun violence epidemic in this country demands that giant steps be taken. Democrats in the Senate will push to go further, including passing universal background checks, actual federal legislation on protection orders, and a debate on banning assault weapons.” What's your reaction?

    DEVOS: Well, the point is there are pieces of legislation before Congress today that can take significant steps in the right direction. Background checks, the Stop Violence Act. They have broad bipartisan support. And the president wants to see Congress act now, take these steps today, and then let's look at what we can do as next steps beyond that. But every time we’ve had a situation like this, we’ve had a lot of discussion, and camps go into their various corners. And then we sit and don't get anything done. The president is committed to taking action and to ensuring that we do what we can at the federal level to protect kids.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Do you like what Florida did last Friday?

    DEVOS: I think Florida has done an amazing job in a very short period of time of tackling some very difficult issues, and I think that every state is looking in that same direction, though Florida had obviously immediate motivation.

    KILMEADE: Right.

    DOOCY: Sure. And one of the things that Florida did -- and now they are being sued by the NRA -- is they raised the age for buying a long gun to age 21. The president had said shortly after Parkland he would like to see that happen. But that's not in the proposal. Any idea why?

    DEVOS: Well, everything is on the table. And part of the job of this commission will be to study that and see if that is advanced ultimately as a recommendation in next steps. The point being there are many steps to be taken now, and additional steps that will be taken down the road as we do the work of the commission.

    EARHARDT: The president had mentioned making our schools similar to airports where you have to go through metal detectors, you have to show IDs. Any details on that?

    DEVOS: Well, you know, some schools actually do that today. And perhaps for some communities, for some cities, for some states, that will be appropriate. There is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue and this problem. There are going to be many different solutions, and one of the things the commission has been charged to do is to really do an inventory and raise up all of the best practices across the country because some communities are getting it really right.

    KILMEADE: If I'm governor, I’d like to do it myself. Governor [Rick] Scott was not waiting for anything from Washington. That's probably what you should do. But I want us to switch to something else that really is the hallmark of your secretaryship, if that's a word, and that is giving kids a school -- give choice, vouchers for kids to be able to go to schools, some of which are excellent schools, and out of schools that might be failing. Well, Huffington Post says, “School choice is a lie that harms us all.” What don't they understand that you do?

    DEVOS: Well, they obviously haven't talked to the many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions of parents, who want to have the chance to choose the right education for their child. And we know today there is just a fraction of families in this country that are able to make that choice. And we need to make that choice much more broadly available to ensure that every child is in a school and in a learning environment that works for him or her.

    KILMEADE: And some can't afford it and that's where the vouchers come in, correct?

    DEVOS: That's right. And a voucher is just a mechanism. There are many mechanisms that can be used. The key is giving parents freedom for their kids' education. Freedom to make the decisions and the choices that are right for their child or their children.

    EARHARDT: Is that any type of school? Does that include religious schools?

    DEVOS: It does indeed. There are many programs already today in states that are serving small numbers of families of kids, and if they select a school, a faith-based school, that is certainly their option and choice. But, the idea, again, is giving parents the kind of freedom that those who have means and those who are wealthy are able to make those decisions on a daily basis.

    DOOCY: Well, we like the idea, but of course the teachers unions don't because they feel their jobs are at stake.

    DEVOS: Well, there are some very powerful forces that are arrayed against changing the status quo. And that is what we are up against. But the reality is that the majority of people in this country support the idea of giving parents that kind of freedom. And so this legislation is going to continue to advance at the state level. At the national level, we’re going to continue to push this conversation, and to encourage our lawmakers to look at ways that they can encourage it both in their states, and take steps nationally that will help parents be free to make those decisions for their kids.

  • Vice highlights one hate group’s assault on LGBTQ youth

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    A recent Vice report detailed Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) stealth years-long effort to chip away at the separation of church and state in public schools and take away the rights of LGBTQ students. Most recently, as Vice reported, ADF was a “major force” behind the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri violated the church’s First Amendment rights by denying it access to government grants meant for secular use. Trinity v. Comer was viewed as a “major First Amendment decision” in terms of the separation of church and state.

    Media Matters identified ADF as the anti-LGBTQ hate group leading the national campaign against transgender students in November 2015. Since then, ADF has kept up its assault on the rights of transgender students to access a fair and equal education: It has drafted a model policy to deny transgender students equal protection in school, repeatedly sent representatives to testify at school board meetings to advocate against protecting transgender students, and even sued school districts for implementing transgender-inclusive policies.

    Vice reported that ADF has “an army of over 2,600 private attorneys and assets of around $40 million” to work on clawing back the rights of LGBTQ youth in schools:

    Why has the organization dedicated so much attention to schools in recent years? According to [Angelo] Carusone at Media Matters, maintaining control of the country's education system is part of ADF's long view of the fight to control public policy.

    “They see this as a generational fight, and you target kids when you're fighting a generational war,” he said. “They think they can turn the tides of culture, and they're willing to fight this for decades... They're not fighting individual skirmishes over individual policies. They see this as a battle in a decades-long, multi-generational effort to make sure every member of the LGBT community is not just pushed back into the closet, but put in jail.”

    The report also highlighted efforts by LBGTQ organizations and coalitions, such as the Eliminate Hate campaign, to push back against ADF’s actions:

    That the ADF has taken such an active role in manipulating educational policy has not gone unnoticed by LGBTQ organizations. Recently, a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy groups launched a campaign called “Eliminate Hate,” dedicated to exposing ADF interference in school districts and bringing attention to other anti-LGBTQ hate groups.

    “It's bad enough when you're not accepted at home,” said Sara Grossman, communications manager at the Matthew Shepard Foundation (MSF), which advocates for an end to violence against LGBTQ people. “Sometimes school is your safe space. To take that away is atrocious. They're just kids.”

    Besides media outreach, coalition partners are also placing op-eds in major news outlets, and working to connect supportive parents with school officials so that their voices can't be ignored.

    But it’s going to be difficult to counter the ADF’s vast legal and financial resources, particularly now that they've been successful in the Trinity case. With a sympathetic administration in the White House, it’ll be easier than ever for states to reduce funding for public schools and increase funding for discriminatory private schools.

  • When Journalists Investigated Trump's Nominee For Education Secretary, They Found Scores Of Unanswered Questions

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & PAM VOGEL

    Journalists have spent months investigating the complicated connections of education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, attempting to untangle her financial dealings and ideological stances on public education. In light of DeVos’ January 17 Senate committee confirmation hearing, Media Matters highlights some of the findings from quality investigative reporting on the billionaire Republican mega-donor. 

  • Fox News’ Coded Language About School Safety 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    It’s been one year since news figures seized on the story of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Muslim American child in Texas who was taken from his school in handcuffs for bringing a “suspicious” homemade alarm clock to class. Last September, Fox News’ coverage of Mohamed’s arrest revealed a long-held tendency to selectively invoke the language of “school safety” to conveniently push conservative stances on immigration, national security, LGBT rights, and guns, while ignoring threats to the safety of the most vulnerable populations in our schools.

    When Fox News talks about “school safety,”  the ensuing conversation is exactly what you’d expect from a network with a median viewer age of 68 and a prime-time viewership that’s only 1.1 percent black. For Fox and its viewers, a predictable line exists between those individuals worthy of protection and those who represent perceived threats. Here’s what we’ve seen on Fox since Ahmed’s arrest made headlines last fall.

    Fox Pushes Islamophobic Rhetoric While Muslim Students Get Bullied

    Fox News Pushed Islamophobic Talking Points In Ahmed Mohamed Coverage

    In September 2015, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested at his Irving, TX, middle school and brought to a local police station in handcuffs after he was reported for bringing a “suspicious” homemade alarm clock to his classroom. In the weeks of national media coverage of the incident that followed, Fox News figures dismissed Mohamed’s traumatic experience and used the incident to justify profiling.

    The network aired segments vilifying the child, claiming that progressives were hypocritical or willfully exploitative for suggesting Mohamed’s arrest was influenced by Islamophobia, and hyping so-called connections between Mohamed’s family members and terrorists. The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld summarized this convoluted position: “Try bringing a clock that looks like a bomb to the White House. Actually, no, don’t try it; you’ve seen what they do to people who jump fences. So why is this school’s safety a joke, but President Obama’s isn’t? Because for [Obama], and the media, the story fits the assumption of an America that hates Muslims. Yup, it’s our fault for reacting when a kid brings a wired-up box to a place filled with kids in a state where terror has occurred.”

    Muslim Students Are Experiencing More Bullying And Fear Because Of Their Faith

    According to a survey conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, classroom teachers are reporting more incidents of identity-based bullying and fear particularly among students from immigrant and Muslim families, a trend that appears to be connected to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric -- which Fox News has actively legitimized for years. A California study released just months after Mohamed’s arrest found that the majority of American Muslim students in the state reported experiencing physical and verbal bullying because of their faith in 2014. An in-depth report from The Guardian explained the trend:

    Words are the most common weapon of school bullies, but in the past month, anti-Muslim sentiment in schools is increasingly manifesting in physical attacks, particularly against girls who wear the hijab. On 19 November, three boys allegedly beat up a sixth-grade girl wearing a hijab, calling her “Isis”. A 2014 study by Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) study found 29% of students who wore hijab experienced offensive touching or pulling of their scarves.

    [...]

    Fifty-five percent of Muslim students surveyed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) last year reported that they were bullied at school in some form because of their Islamic faith. That’s twice the national percentage of bullying reported by all students, regardless of their religion. According to the CAIR survey, verbal harassment is the most common, with non-Muslims calling Muslim students terrorists or referencing bombs. But physical assaults also occur.

    These incidents are taking a psychological toll on Muslim youth. “At a crucial time in their identity development, they’re suffering from chronic trauma,” says Dr Halim Naeem, a psychotherapist and president of The Institute of Muslim Mental Health. Dr Naeem says that in the past few months alone, he has seen increased cases of depression, anxiety, image issues, paranoia, and substance abuse among Muslim American youth. In the short term, the constant stress wreaks havoc on students’ immune systems and destroys their focus, disrupting learning ability.

    Fox Pushes Guns In Schools, But Experts Say That Doesn’t Help

    Fox News Believes Having More Guns In Schools Helps Create Safe Environments

    In the wake of recent mass shootings, Fox News figures voices have repeatedly pushed arming educators or allowing more guns in schools as a way to improve student and teacher safety, and irresponsibly spread dangerous misinformation about school safety best practices. Immediately following the 2012 mass shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Fox News began calling for teachers to be armed -- even as school security experts, educators, and others argue that bringing guns into schools would make classrooms more dangerous and worsen learning environments for students. When a Texas school district moved to arm some of its teachers in 2014, the network devoted at least two segments to celebrating the decision and pushing the long-debunked myth (peddled by the NRA) that “a good guy with a gun” would prevent mass shootings. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade praised the initiative: “If you want to drop your kid off and know that they are going to be protected, you know at least in that school they are going to be protected.” Last year, Fox & Friends co-hosts again demonstrated a misguided understanding of school safety when they encouraged young children to physically confront gunmen, rather than first try to escape, and then hide -- and only confront the guman as a last resort -- as experts advise in the event of an active shooter situation.

    Evidence Shows Guns In Schools Only Increase The Likelihood Of Violence, Especially For Students Of Color

    As the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, wrote back in 2014, educators have long expressed an overwhelming desire to keep firearms out of classrooms and to strengthen gun violence prevention measures. Research has shown that greater access to guns in general creates greater risk for accidents and misfires. Gun access corresponds with increased risk of homicide, and gun-related deaths in the home are now the second most likely cause of death for children and teens. There’s also little evidence the presence of armed security staff in schools makes them any safer. Advocates are pushing for better training and reformed responsibilities for these positions to emphasize restorative justice and de-escalation techniques, as well as student and community needs, in order to combat current racial disparities in schools’ use of armed security officers.

    Fox Pushes Debunked “Bathroom Laws” That Actually Threaten LGBT Safety In Schools

    Fox News Believes Bogus “Bathroom Laws” Keep Children Safe From So-Called “Predators”

    Fox News figures have been instrumental in pushing the right-wing myth that gender-inclusive bathrooms in schools allow adult men to prey on children. The network has routinely either fearmongered about schools’ efforts to make their bathrooms safe for all students to use or mocked inclusive bathroom policies altogether. More than two years after Media Matters first debunked the “bathroom predator” myth, Fox News continues to push dangerous rhetoric about nondiscrimination policies. In April, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt hyped the disingenuous claim that nondiscrimination laws could lead to “a grown adult man” with “bad intentions” sneaking into “the little girls’ bathroom.” In May, Sean Hannity mocked inclusive bathroom policies on his radio show, proposing “liberal bathroom areas” where “you can have all the transgendered back-and-forth that you want.” In June, Tucker Carlson called the Democratic National Convention’s gender-neutral bathrooms “disgusting.”

    But There Is No Evidence Of Predatory Incidents In School Bathrooms, And “Bathroom Bills” Threaten The Safety Of LGBT Students

    After speaking to officials at 23 school districts and four universities that allow transgender students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity, Media Matters failed to find any evidence of incidents of inappropriate bathroom behavior. Law enforcement experts and people who work with survivors of sexual assault have referred to this persistent myth as “beyond specious” and “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

    In fact, school officials and educators’ groups continue to support efforts to boost nondiscriminatory bathroom policies and have pointed out the need for LGBT students to have these types of basic protections. Research shows LGBT students overwhelmingly report experiences of bullying in schools today, and efforts to distract from the needs of LGBT students with fearmongering and mockery certainly don’t help. In its guidelines for supporting transgender and gender diverse students, the American Psychological Association recommends that schools provide accessible facilities that match a student’s gender identity as one way to address the high rates of victimization and hostility transgender students report. In fact, opposition to nondiscrimination policies can further stigmatize and single out transgender students, leading to more reports of bullying and an increased risk of suicide. Advocates for survivors of sexual assault have also pointed out that perpetuating the “bathroom predator” myth can have dangerous consequences: Relying on stereotypical predator imagery to talk about sexual assault diverts attention and resources from finding solutions to keep women and girls safe.   

  • Fox & Friends Outraged That World History Students Are Learning About Islam

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox & Friends: Teach Children Islamophobia

    Fox News' latent Islamophobia manifested itself during two segments criticizing a Wisconsin high school for asking history students to write about Muslim Americans based on materials covered in class.

    On April 2, according to emails initially obtained by right-wing talk radio host Vicki McKenna, world history students at Union Grove High School were asked to write a short essay about daily life for Muslims living in the United States. Students were asked to write five paragraphs in which they "pretend" to be Muslim and briefly outline their daily routine along with any potential "struggles" they might face.

    Fox News expressed its concern about the assignment during two segments on the April 15 edition of Fox & Friends, in which co-hosts Steve Doocy, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Brian Kilmeade wondered if it was appropriate for students to learn about Islam -- the world's second-largest religion -- in a world history class. At first, Doocy wondered if students wrote about "what Sharia law is," and how they were graded if they did, while Hasselbeck worried that students might not being learning enough about Christianity:

    Doocy reiterated his alleged concerns about Sharia law during a later segment, in which he hyped common Islamophobic tropes about the religion being violent and intolerant:

    DOOCY: I wonder if they actually, if they did study the religion in this world history class, if they wrote down things like, "If I criticize any part of the Quran, they will kill me," or, "If Muslims marry non-Muslims, they will be put to death," or, "If I'm caught stealing, they'll amputate my right hand." I wonder if they put that kind of stuff in, because that's all part of Sharia law.

    Fox has a long history of stoking Islamophobia and worrying about the supposed looming threat of Sharia law, recently attacking a school for allowing a student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic.