A photo of the Texas Supreme Court with the title Theocrat of the Week

Texas Supreme Court dubbed ‘Theocrat of Week’ while Pa. school board prez is lauded for fighting book bans 

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FFRF Action Fund’s “Theocrat of the Week” title goes to the Texas Supreme Court for blocking a Texas woman from having a medically necessary abortion this week. Its “Secularist of the Week” is bestowed on a brave Pennsylvania school board president sworn in, not on a bible, but on a stack of banned books.

Texas’ highest court unanimously barred Texas resident Kate Cox from receiving a necessary abortion in her home state. Cox, who was carrying a wanted pregnancy, learned the fetus had trisomy 18, a disorder with a high risk of stillbirth and virtually no survival rate. She was granted an emergency court order to have an abortion in Texas, which bans almost all abortions, by a state district judge. The Texas Supreme Court vacated the order, forcing her to go out of state to protect her health and end the doomed pregnancy.

State Supreme Court Justice John Devine, backed by right-wing organizations Eagle Forum and the First Liberty (formerly called Liberty Institute), makes it a point to base his rulings on religiosity. While campaigning on the platform of injecting Christianity into the state government, he coined the “10 Commandments Judge” title for himself, referring to his refusal to remove a painting of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom. A notorious anti-abortion activist, Devine, during his campaign for the Texas Supreme Court, even boasted about his harassment of women outside abortion clinics, claiming he “rescued” people getting abortion services. Devine gloated about being arrested 37 times for his protesting. He is up for reelection next year.

Devine is not the only staunch anti-abortion advocate on the state’s highest court. Justice Jimmy Blacklock, appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2018, joined Abbott for a Texas Pro-Life Rally that year. Abbott praised Blacklock by saying, “I don’t have to guess or wonder how Justice Blacklock is going to decide cases because of his proven record of fighting for pro-life causes.” 

With Texas being one of only seven states that elects Supreme Court justices through partisan races, the Texas Supreme Court has been stacked with anti-abortion activists.

In a more positive vein, “Secularist of the Week” is awarded to Central Bucks (Pa.) School Board President Karen Smith, whose election flipped the board from a Republican to a Democratic majority. Smith was commendably sworn in on a stack of books being challenged for bans, instead of a bible, a reference to the prior conservative school board’s priorities to review books with “sexualized content.”

The previous Central Buck School Board had banned pride flags and even faced a federal investigation into their treatment of LGBTQ-plus students. During its first meeting following Smith’s election, the board reversed dangerous policies implemented by the conservative majority. This included ending a book-banning policy that appointed a district-level “library supervisor” and a formalized process for challenging diverse books. 

When talking about her decision, Smith said, “I’m not particularly religious. The bible doesn’t hold significant meaning for me, and given everything that has occurred in the last couple of years, the banned books, they do mean something to me.” Smith said she wanted to highlight “the commitment I’ve had to fighting for the books, and for our students’ freedom to read.”

The stack of books Smith decided to use included books with diverse LGBTQ-plus characters and themes, characters struggling with childhood abuse and accounts of surviving the Holocaust. Smith’s stance against book banning secures her the “Secularist of the Week” title, and FFRF Action Fund welcomes her as an ally as we continue to fight against pervasive Christian nationalism — from local school boards to state Supreme Courts.

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.