There has been highly troubling action happening in the Texas Legislature.
The Senate Education Committee, in a hearing that went late into the night last week, heard a number of bills that directly attack the constitutional principle of the separation between state and church.
The first bill, Senate Bill 1515, seeks to require that all public school classrooms in the state of Texas display the Ten Commandments. Proponents of the bill — such as shamed faux-historian David Barton — touted the Ten Commandments as the source from which we established our laws, and thus must be the moral compass by which students guide their lives. Others claimed the United States has lost its way due to the rise in moral relativism that filled the void when religion was supposedly removed from the public sphere. Witnesses went on to complain that the most recent mass shooting at a Nashville Christian school is such an indication. Never mind the complete irony that this shooter was a former Christian school student and the shooting happened in a Christian school and church where the god they are attempting to peddle is supposed to be the most present. And let us look away from the glaringly obvious factor that contributed to the massacre: unfettered access to a military-style firearm. Hanging a particular version of the Ten Commandments (one of four versions), allows Christian nationalist legislators in Texas to pretend they are taking action when they’re really turning a blind eye to what is driving the violence in the United States.
Ten Commandments proponents insisted that requiring bible edicts to be posted in every classroom will restore “religious liberties” when, of course, it will do the opposite. Disingenuously relying on the highly scrutinized and problematic decision in the notoriously deceitful Kennedy v. Bremerton School District decision, an attorney from the First Liberty Institute and other witnesses celebrated the opportunity to re-insert religion into schools. Proponents absurdly assured the naysayers that this proposal would not be an endorsement of any particular religion. To believe this, we must ignore the glaringly obvious: Within the first three lines in the required Ten Commandments, the text reads, “I AM the LORD thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Imagine reading that every day at school as a Gen Z student, a generation the majority of which does not adhere to the Christian faith. Being forced to stare each day at biblical commandments would hardly be what these students would classify as “religious liberty.”
While SB 1515 got the lion’s share of attention, two other bills that Texas theocrats proposed during this committee hearing are also alarming.
Senate Bill 1721 adds to a requirement that the “national motto” be displayed in every classroom the stipulation that “historically significant documents” also be displayed if donated or purchased with private funds. Included with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution is a copy of the Ten Commandments. This is perhaps a more subtle attempt to require the Ten Commandments be displayed in public school classrooms than SB 1515’s attempt. Placing the Ten Commandments alongside actual founding documents, if anything, makes the display even worse by falsely suggesting the Ten Commandments were a fundamental part of the American founding.
Senate Bill 763 seeks to employ chaplains to perform the same functions as school counselors with none of the required training. While there’s an amendment to this bill that is not readily available on the Legislature’s website, the notion of employing a minister with no credentials to handle the duties of a school counselor in a religiously pluralistic school setting is outrageous.
All of these bills have been left pending in committee. That means the chair of the Texas Senate Education Committee can call these bills at any time for the committee to vote on. I will continue to follow the progress of these bills and keep our members informed with their status.
Christian nationalism in Texas is nothing new. Texas legislators have incrementally chipped away at the secular values that make this nation welcoming to all faiths and individuals with no religion. Now they are taking advantage of the window of opportunity afforded them by recent disastrous decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt unconstitutional laws with the clear intent to challenge more than a half-century of precedent against religious instruction and indoctrination in our public schools.
Now, more than ever, we must voice our opposition to these exclusionary and misguided bills.