The FFRF Action Fund, the lobbying arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, warns that a special legislative session in Texas is being hijacked to try to pass Christian nationalist bills, including resurrecting the infamous proposal to place large Ten Commandments posters in every Texas public school classroom.
Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders, the Texas Senate reconvened to address issues relating to property tax rates and penalties for smuggling people. Texas Christian nationalists are capitalizing on the opportunity to pursue their theocratic crusade, including re-hashing bills that failed during the regular session to force religion on public school students.
This appears to be in violation of Article 3, Section 40 of the Texas Constitution, stating that when the legislature convenes for a special session, “there shall be no legislation upon subjects other than those designated in the proclamation of the Governor calling such session, or presented to them by the Governor.”
While Texas courts have interpreted this to mean that the legislature is not held to the strict interpretation of the topic of the special session, their rulings do seem to require that the specific details of the proposed legislation in a special session generally fall within the topic set forth by the governor’s proclamation. However, the bills that have been introduced in the Texas Senate show a gross disregard for the stated purpose of the special session.
The Texas bill on the Ten Commandments, which got the most national attention during the regular legislative session, has been re-introduced and is speeding through the committee process. Senate Bill 9, formerly known as Senate Bill 1515, would require a particular version of the Ten Commandments to be displayed in each public school classroom. This bill saw overwhelming opposition, and the FFRF prepared to sue over it.
Lacking the publicity, but no less inappropriate, Senate Bill 17 is another bill that has reemerged during the special session. Employees of public schools or open-enrollment charter schools would be allowed to engage in religious speech or prayer while on duty. Finally, Senate Bill 19 allows school districts to adopt a policy to require that schools provide students and employees with an opportunity to participate in a period of prayer and reading of the bible or other religious texts each school day.
Public education and school safety ought to be among the biggest areas of concern for Texas legislators. Texas is home to the second most school shootings in the country since 1970. Its public schools consistently rank in the bottom half in terms of quality of education. Unwilling to address the real issues that plague their schools, Christian nationalists are using the special session to try to sneak legislation into law to inflict their religious beliefs upon a captive audience of public school children. And they are using deceptive tactics to get done what they couldn’t in the regular session.
As it stands now, reports FFRF State Advocacy Specialist Ryan Dudley, the House has adjourned sine die for this special session. That means that they will not take up any business that comes from the Senate. However, that could change at a moment’s notice. If the House decides to come back for this or a future special session, there’s a strong possibility that these bills could be enacted. Each special session lasts just 30 days, but there is no limit to the number of special sessions that the governor can call. So, while the House’s holdout during this special session may put time on our side, we cannot rest assured that lawmakers will not bring up these same bills in future special sessions.
“We know the battle of church and state is continual, and we can never stop our vigilance,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Action Fund president. “We are putting out the alert so that Texans who care about true religious liberty are aware that their senators may be jeopardizing it, and that FFRF Action Fund is on watch.”
If you live in Texas, use our handy action alert to contact your legislator.
FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.