Christian Nationalist Rick Scarborough Targets Houston-Area Public School Boards

Religious-right activist Rick Scarborough speaking at a True Texas Project event in January 2021.

Rick Scarborough, a self-described “Christocrat,” strident anti-LGBTQ activist, and longtime critic of public education, is raising money for his group Recover America to help elect right-wing candidates to school boards in three Houston-area school districts, which are among the nation’s largest.

Right Wing Watch has reported that an array of right-wing political groups are mobilizing this year to take over local school boards in an effort to reverse LGBTQ-inclusive policies, stifle teaching about racism, and more. The Leadership Institute, one of the groups that is encouraging and training right-wing activists to take over school boards across the country, held campaign workshops in Houston and Temple, Texas, on Sept. 18.

Recover America’s website says its purpose is to work “for a revival in America resulting in a nation where Biblical values are embraced, and decency is restored” and that its mission is “to mobilize Pastors and Church Leaders to use their influence to register, educate and mobilize values-based citizens to vote their Biblical values on Election Day.” The group’s vice president, Hunter Kelly, is a former staffer for Republican Sens. Tim Scott and Josh Hawley.

Scarborough discussed his group’s plans this week on two episodes of his podcast, “Mixing Church and State God’s Way,” which is promoted via the Charisma podcasting network, an arm of Steven Strang’s Pentecostal-oriented media empire.  On a Sept. 20 episode of the podcast, Scarborough claimed it is a “tragic reality” that “the church is so absent in the current moral conflict our country’s found itself in.”

Scarborough told listeners that “trying to move Christians in Harris County and the surrounding counties to vote in the upcoming elections on Nov. 2 for school board elections” is Recover America’s “first major project.”

“The left has had free rein because no one votes in school board elections,” Scarborough complained. “Twenty-five hundred votes elected one of the current members of the HISD [Houston Independent School District] in a runoff election,” he said, adding that “one megachurch motivated in that district could have swung the tide in favor of a more conservative candidate.”

“But tragically, school board elections have been ignored,” he continued. “Well, they’re not being ignored now. We’re coming out full tilt, not endorsing candidates but endorsing biblical faith and biblical ideology, standing on the ground of the Bible.”

He said the group would hold public forums and publish voter guides. “One side,” he said, is “radically advancing” the “LGBTQ agenda” and promoting “critical race theory.”

“Beloved, we’re engaging and we’re trying to enlighten churches about this great battle for the soul of this generation. We’re trying to reverse the tide, and once the left knows what we are doing, we expect a full-frontal assault.”

On his next episode, posted on Wednesday, Scarborough talked about having spoken to a group of Republicans earlier in the week about his efforts to mobilize conservative Christian voters in the Houston Independent School District and surrounding school districts. “We have an opportunity to impact over 400,000 children that are being taught critical race theory, that are being taught Black Lives Matter, and all these other salacious philosophies that are rooted in Marxism and hatred of what America is and should be.”

Here’s more from Scarborough’s podcast:

When we discovered that there were five open seats on the HISD school board this election, that we could literally in November turn the tide and the direction of the largest school system in Texas, we dove in with both feet. And while we’ve been working undercover, networking pastors and having countless meetings, we’re public now. Five candidates that we believe hold the right views have signed up to run in those five open seats.

And then we bumped into the Cy-Fair [Cypress-Fairbanks]  school system where there are three committed Christians we had nothing to do with that are running for those seats that are open there. Klein ISD [Klein Independent School District] likewise has a majority of seats open, and they have an additional 50 or 60,000 students in that school system.

All can be impacted by Christians going to the polls and simply voting their values. We’re preparing voter guides for each school system. We’re going to put them in the hands of pastors who we trust. We’ll put them in the hands of laypeople, but to do this costs an enormous amount of money—more than we have.

Scarborough said that once this election is successful, Recover America will take its message “to every city and hamlet in Texas.” He added, “And once we turn the tide in Texas to righteousness, we’re going to take that message to the nation … We’re going to show Christians how to change the world by changing their own public school system.” He said activists can “begin turning the tide of evil that’s been perpetrated on our children for the last three decades or more” but that he needs “large infusions” of money to make it happen.

In 2009, Scarborough wrongly predicted that he and other pastors would be thrown into jail after passage of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Act. In 2015, he declared that he would not “bow” or “bend” to marriage equality, saying that if necessary, “we will burn.”

Scarborough says he was inspired to become politically active by an AIDS-education program in his daughter’s high school, which led to members of his church taking over the local school board. Scarborough founded the Texas-based Vision America and led the group for many years. In 2016, he was part of a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and hundreds of religious-right pastors and activists, an event that helped seal evangelical leaders’ overwhelming support for Trump.

In 2018, Scarborough headed to Washington, D.C., to work with anti-LGBTQ activist Jim Garlow’s Well Versed Ministry doing outreach to members of Congress and other public officials.  In 2019, he was among the religious-right leaders who backed Franklin Graham’s call for a National Day of Prayer for then-President Donald Trump. That same year, he also joined religious-right activists who criticized Republican leaders for finally taking action against then Rep. Steve King  for making racist comments.