Ken Paxton

Texas AG Paxton impeachment trial innocent verdict signals trouble ahead


The FFRF Action Fund is displeased over the Texas Senate’s acquittal of Christian nationalist Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. 

The trial served as a who’s who of Texas right-wing legal minds duking it out for moral supremacy in front of the Texas Senate. Despite the damning facts before it, the Lone Star State upper chamber nevertheless voted to acquit Paxton on charges of felony fraud, allegations of corruption and an extramarital affair. 

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of the acquittal will be the likely further endangerment of state/church separation in the state of Texas. As the New York Times reports, “The rifts exposed by the  impeachment could have immediate effects next month, when Gov. Greg Abbott is widely expected to call the House and Senate back to Austin to take up legislation to create a voucher system that would use state money to pay for private schools.” The Texas Senate is fully in support of the bill while the House had held out.

The case against Paxton detailed how he abused his power as the attorney general to serve his interests. The  impeachment trial hinged on claims of bribery, abuse of office and obstruction. The majority of the claims outlined in the impeachment centered around an extramarital affair and shady business practices with an Austin-area real estate developer. The evidence was clear that Paxton used his position to cover up for his wrongdoings and advance his personal agenda. 

The FFRF Action Fund knows quite well that Paxton is a perennial offender of the constitutional principle of state/church separation. In 2016, Paxton used his position to hire religious extremists from the First Liberty Institute to the AG office. His relentless efforts to inject religion into the public sphere have resulted in marginalizing and excluding those who do not share his particular faith.    

Paxton’s actions during his tenure as Texas attorney general have consistently demonstrated a disregard for the constitutional rights of all citizens, particularly those who do not share his personal religious beliefs. What is more, this trial has brought to light the fact that the advancement of his extremist beliefs was solely for his own benefit, while going through incredible lengths to hide his extramarital affair from his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton. Paxton wants to impose a form of morality upon Texans that he himself does not abide by. This isn’t surprising, however; Christian nationalism is an inherently self-serving ideology

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a long history of calling to hold Paxton accountable for his egregious overreaches as attorney general.  For example, after the Obergefell decision legalizing marriage equality, he offered backing for rogue clerks who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He even supports enforcing the anti-sodomy laws on Texas’ books if the Supreme Court revisits Lawrence v. Texas, a prime example of Paxton picking and choosing which laws to enforce based on his religious views. 

Paxton’s longstanding relationship with the First Liberty Institute, an ultraconservative Christian nationalist think tank that aims to advance “traditional values” and bring “the biblical worldview to the forefront of American life and politics,” may have soured after a number of their attorneys-turned-whistleblowers testified against him during the trial. However, his work there will cement his legacy as a theocrat.

Paxton’s ethical misconduct finally caught up with him, and his troubles are far from over. This impeachment will hopefully serve as a precursor to the long-delayed criminal trial he has been facing since 2015. His indictment on felony fraud charges, allegations of corruption and an extramarital affair have further eroded public trust. His personal legal troubles have distracted from his duty to protect the constitutional rights of all Texans, regardless of their religious or nonreligious affiliation. For far too long, Paxton has operated with impunity, and now it is time he be held accountable for his corruption. 

FFRF Action Fund is most concerned about the fact that the unfortunate verdict, as the Times reported, “puts the hard right in control of Texas.” FFRF immediately made known its plan to sue over the call to place a Ten Commandments poster in every Texas classroom. The misguided bill didn’t pass because the clock ran out, but there will undoubtedly be a renewed push by Gov. Abbott, as well as a rebooted push to adopt a voucher scheme to siphon tax dollars from public to unaccountable religious schools.

FFRF Action Fund will be monitoring the Texas Legislature and working with our 1,300-plus Texas advocates to defeat such Christian nationalist measures.
FFRF Action Fund, the legislative arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, 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.