Saturday, June 26, 2004

Getting It Right On The Christian Right: WC Professor's New Book Separates Fact From Fiction In School Board Politics

Chestertown, MD, June 25, 2004 — Is the Christian Right taking over America's public schools? Melissa Deckman, assistant professor of political science at Washington College in Chestertown, MD, says there is more media hype than truth in the supposed threat posed by Christian Right candidates to America's public schools. Her new book, School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics, released this spring by Georgetown University Press, examines the often discussed but superficially understood cultural and political war taking place in school districts nationwide where secularity and religion clash on issues such as evolution, multiculturalism, censorship and sexual mores.

School Board Battles asks important questions: Why do conservative Christians run for school boards? How much influence has the Christian Right actually had on school boards? How do conservative Christians govern? Where newspapers, pundits and commentators often paint pictures of irresolvable Right-Left dichotomies and overly aggressive political strategies, Deckman—through interviews, surveys and in-depth studies of actual elections—sees a more complex picture emerging, with more similarities between the conservative candidates and their more secular counterparts than might be expected.

“I wrote this book to determine, in part, if the Christian Right was ‘taking over' local school boards as part of a coordinated, grassroots strategy as many in their own ranks and in the ranks of their ideological opponents claimed,” says Deckman. “I found this not to be the case after I conducted a national survey of school board candidates in 1998, not long after the height of Christian Right power in U.S. politics. Not only were Christian Right candidates no more likely to win or lose than other candidates, ties between local candidates and organizations such as the Christian Coalition were weak, at best.

“As an empirical examination of political activity, I believe my book has important implications in terms of bringing truth to discourse,” she adds. “My findings challenge the media hype that the Christian Right was destined to infiltrate the public schools through school board governance. Instead, the voices of conservative Christian candidates—sometimes successfully, sometimes not-—can now be heard along with the voices of moderate and liberal candidates running for school board, which, at its heart, is the hallmark of our American democracy.”

A native Marylander, Deckman graduated from St. Mary's College of Maryland in 1993 and received her Ph.D. in Political Science from American University in 1999. She has taught at Washington College since 2000. In addition to broader interests in American politics, Deckman specializes in the areas of religion and politics, state and local politics, and women and politics. She is also engaged in an on-going research project about the political behavior of women clergy. She has published numerous academic articles in journals such as Social Science Quarterly, Public Administration Review, Review of Religious Research, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly and Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

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