The Texas Freedom Network supports the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state, which protects the right of all Americans to practice the faith of their choice, or none at all, free of government interference.

Unfortunately, efforts to knock down that wall are a constant in Texas. Politicians and activists have attempted to impose their views on others on issues like abortion and access to contraception. And in a distortion of the principle of religious freedom, far-right groups have supported legislative efforts to allow individuals to use religion as an excuse to ignore laws they might not like and even as a weapon to discriminate against others.

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The Latest on Church & State

Efforts to pass legislation addressing the mythical threat of Sharia, or Islamic law, in Texas are gearing up yet again in the current legislative session.

Right-wing state lawmakers have been pushing for years to pass legislation banning Sharia in Texas. Many such bills around the country have been linked to a core group of anti-Muslim fanatics (see here as well) who claim that America is at risk of coming under the control of Muslim extremists and Islamic law. Nevermind that the U.S. Constitution forbids the establishment of religious laws. (And nevermind that many of those fanatics and their supporters often argue that American laws should be based on their own particular Christian beliefs.)

Federal courts have taken a skeptical view of such laws, noting that they single out a particular religion. Indeed, many efforts to pass such laws represent little more than poorly concealed bigotry aimed at Muslim Americans.

So in recent years supporters of anti-Sharia bills have tried to craft laws without actually mentioning Sharia. Instead, their bills bar the application of “foreign,” “international” or “cultural” laws in our courts. And supporters often try to avoid even mentioning Sharia in legislative debates over the bills.

No one is fooled. And legislators’ efforts to… Read More

Speaking Sunday on Fox News, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore declared that he will continue to reject any federal court rulings that state same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional. Why? God’s law (as he interprets it) trumps everything:

“This power over marriage, which came from God under our organic law, is not to be redefined by the United States Supreme Court or any federal court.”

Moore clearly has the same disregard for separation of church and state that other religious-righters do. Consider, for example, similar arguments made by David Barton — head of Texas-based WallBuilders and something like the propaganda minister for the religious right in America — against same-sex marriage:

“From a constitutional standpoint, you cannot exclude morals. A number of conservative libertarians in recent months have been saying ‘hey, marriage is not a constitutional issue’ … yet it is because Article 7 of the Constitutional through the attestation clause incorporates the Declaration [of Independence] into the Constitution.

The Declaration erects the moral standard by talking about the laws of nature and of nature’s god.  Marriage has always been defined not only as a law of nature – now, it’s not necessarily in nature, but they called it a natural law… Read More

Beware of politicians who propose legislation to protect religious freedom. It’s very important to read the fine print.

Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans. That’s why it is protected in the Texas and federal constitutions and why in 1999 a bipartisan majority in the Texas Legislature passed and a Republican governor signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Texas act bars government from “substantially” burdening “a person’s free exercise of religion” unless a law or regulation “is in the furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

The law lays out guidelines for identifying how those exceptions apply and includes other carefully crafted language to help ensure that the law isn’t abused to, among other things, undermine civil rights protections or lead to unnecessary and expensive lawsuits that clog up the courts. And for 15 years this law has worked well to protect religious freedom for all Texans.

But that’s not good enough for two Texas legislators and the religious-right groups that support them.

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, in this year’s legislative session have proposed separate amendments to the Texas Constitution that would sweep away the common-sense… Read More

Today is Religious Freedom Day, marking the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Authored by Thomas Jefferson, the statute served as a model for other states. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also includes the principle of religious freedom protected by the Virginia statute.

The statute reads, in part:

“Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

Writing about the statute in 1994, the late historian and Jefferson scholar Merrill D. Peterson of the University of Virginia noted the modern debate over religious freedom in America:

“Present-day neoconservatives and spokesmen for the religious right argue, for essentially political reasons, that a common religion is the necessary glue of the nation, that we began as a Christian… Read More

Here’s another item for the “we’re not surprised”  category: a Texas religious-right group is deceitfully portraying a U.S. Army chaplain as a victim of religious persecution.

Liberty Institute, a litigation group based in Plano north of Dallas, is representing Capt. Joseph Lawhorn, an Army chaplain who ran into trouble for essentially evangelizing at a mandatory training on suicide prevention in November. His commander reprimanded him for doing so, writing in a letter:

“During this training, you were perceived to advocate Christianity and used Christian scripture and solutions,” according to the letter of concern. “You provided a two-sided handout that listed Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side. This made it impossible for those in attendance to receive the resource information without also receiving the biblical information.”

The letter goes on to state: “As the battalion chaplain, you are entrusted to care for the emotional wellbeing of all soldiers in the battalion. You, above all others, must be cognizant of the various beliefs held by diverse soldiers. During mandatory training briefings, it is imperative you are careful to avoid any perception you are advocating one system of beliefs over another.”

Another commander backed the reprimand:… Read More

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