The Texas state education board’s influential Christian conservative bloc was weakened March 3 after one of its most prominent members lost his seat to a moderate Republican, and another reliably conservative seat was headed to a runoff, reports the Associated Press. Former board chairman Don McLeroy was handed a GOP primary defeat by lobbyist Thomas Ratliff. Ratliff conceded McLeroy never foisted his religious beliefs into textbooks, over which the 15-member State Board of Education has nationwide influence because Texas is one of the biggest clients for publishers. But Ratliff had criticized the 10-year board veteran for being too far right. “Voters sent a clear message by rejecting the ringleader [McLeroy] of the faction that has repeatedly dragged our public schools into the nation’s divisive culture wars over the past four years,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes Christian conservative initiatives. “Parents want a state board that focuses on educating their kids, not promoting divisive political and personal agendas.” McLeroy, who believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that the Christian influences of the founding fathers are important to studying American history, lost his role as chairman last year following criticism of his outspoken views on creationism and support of teaching the weaknesses of evolutionary theory. The Texas board is currently rewriting the state’s social studies standards amid a debate over how prominently Christianity plays a role in the nation’s history…

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staff and wire services reports