Religious Freedom

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 continually work to impose their views on others, especially around 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.

Resources

Prayer in Public Schools: A Primer (2001 report)

The Texas Faith-Based Initiative (2002 report)NDOP_Report_2005_Revised

A Report on The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (2005 report)

Reading, Writing & Religion: Teaching the Bible in Texas Public Schools (2006 report)

Reading, Writing & Religion II (2013 report)

Can This Class Be Saved? The ‘Hobby Lobby’ Public School Bible Curriculum (2014 report)

What happens when public schools cross the line by promoting personal religious views in their classrooms? One Texas parent -- a religious studies scholar -- explains what happened to her family in this cross-post (with permission) from Scribalishess. Susan M. Pigott is a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at a small, liberal arts university in west Texas. She's married and has two amazing kids. Her family also includes five cats and two dogs, and her favorite hobbies are writing, photography, and geeky tech gadgets. The views expressed in this post are her own. *** I remember driving to Chili’s with my hands clenched on the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. It wasn’t the Abilene traffic (though I could write a blog post about Abilene drivers . . .) No. It was the story that was slowly, painfully unfolding as my son spoke. I was gently (I think) nudging him to reveal more and more about his day in fifth grade at a public elementary school. I was so angry by the time we reached Chili’s that it’s a wonder we didn’t get kicked out of the restaurant. We were heading to Chili’s to meet my husband for dinner. My son’s story began with a shrug and a quiet sentence, “Mr. X said that vegetarianism is wrong.” “What?” I asked–a bit too stridently. My boy at first hesitated to say more. “No, tell me. What did he say?” I asked, a little more gently. “Well,” my son said, “We were reading this book for class. And in the book, this boy has to live in the wilderness for a long time just eating what he could find. And at some point the boy says he really misses hamburgers.” “Okay,” I said. “Well, then Mr. X got out his Bible and told us that the Bible says vegetarianism is wrong. He started quoting a bunch of verses about meat and how you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating it and how vegetarians are less healthy than other people.” “What?” I sort of shrieked. This was when my knuckles turned white. You see, my kids and I are vegetarians. We have been for years. And here was a teacher, a person my son looked up to, telling the class that vegetarianism is wrong. That it’s against the Bible. That it’s unhealthy. I was beyond furious. I explained to my son that Mr. X was using the Bible incorrectly. That those verses he was quoting weren’t about vegetarianism at all, but about meat sacrificed to idols. But I could tell he was deeply hurt by what his teacher had said. By that time we were at Chili’s (yes, you can get vegetarian meals at Chili’s, in case you’re worried about hypocrisy). I was boiling. We sat at our booth, and I asked my son to tell Daddy what he had told me, because I was so livid I couldn’t see straight. My son told his story. Then he added, “Oh. And he also told us we didn’t come from monkeys and he quoted Genesis 1.” That was it. I was ready to hunt down Mr. X and teach him a thing or two about the Bible. You don’t mess with a Bible professor’s kid, teaching him crap theology in a public school classroom. Mr. X had no business saying what he said. I could barely stay in the booth. Read More

We told you Monday that a religious-right group’s voter guide reveals that several Republican candidates in Texas State Board of Education elections this year think government shouldn’t be responsible for making sure all children get an education. The same candidates also support shifting tax dollars from public to private schools. So it might not be surprising to hear that their hostility to public education is matched by their disdain for science and separation of church and state.

According to answers in the voter guide, District 7 incumbent David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, and Fort Worth challengers Eric Mahroum and Lady Theresa Thombs in the District 11 Republican primary all support teaching “intelligent design”/creationism in public schools. They also want biology textbooks to teach creationist arguments about so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. District 11 incumbent Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, indicated that she opposes teaching both “intelligent design” and those discredited “weaknesses” arguments.

All of those candidates, including Hardy, say the Ten Commandments should be displayed in public school buildings, that marriage is a union of one man and one woman and that “no government has the authority to alter this definition.”) They also “strongly agree” that “the more people live by… Read More

Tea party activists like to argue that they simply want a small government that doesn’t intrude on the freedoms of Americans. But that’s hard to do believe when you see tea party and religious-right activists marching together with locked arms.

Consider, for example, Rick Scarborough, head of the religious-right group Vision America, which is based in the East Texas town of Lufkin. Scarborough has worked to tie the tea party and religious-right movements together. In fact, he created Tea Party Unity, a project of Vision America, “to provide services and recognition to Tea Parties across the nation, and to help build a tsunami of grassroots activism that will restore our nation to her Judeo-Christian heritage.”

Today’s Tea Party Unity e-newsletter promotes an essay by Lee Duigon, a contributing editor for the Chalcedon Foundation. Chalcedon, founded in 1965 by the late Rousas John Rushdoony, promotes Christian Reconstructionism. That radical movement advocates for a theocratic government and a society based on libertarian economics. Mother Jones has described the movement as “an obscure but increasingly potent theology whose top exponents hold that Christian crusaders must conquer and convert the world, by the sword if… Read More

The chief organizer of so-called "pastor policy briefings" in support of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's re-election bid in 2005 is now calling on Congress to enact legislation "reestablishing the Bible in public schools." In an email to recipients on his American Renewal Project list today, David Lane calls for congressional legislation reversing the U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 ruling against state-sponsored prayer and devotional Bible study in public schools. That "foolish" ruling, he writes, "gave control of education to the secularists, who have imposed their values, their views, their politics, and their laws on America's Christian heritage and Christian culture." Lane served as the executive director of the Texas Restoration Project in 2005. His organization, funded with $1.3 million in donations from major Perry campaign donors, hosted six "pastor policy briefings" in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio that year. Thousands of pastors and their spouses got free hotel lodging and meals so they could hear Gov. Perry and his political appointees and supporters give speeches in the run-up to Perry's 2006 re-election campaign. The not-so-subtle message to pastors was to return home and essentially turn their congregations into parts of the governor's re-election campaign. They were also encouraged to support a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Texas. Voters approved that amendment in the fall of 2005. Lane has organized similar pastor gatherings in presidential election battleground states around the country, with each of the gatherings featuring speeches by selected Republican politicians like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Pseudo-historian David Barton, head of the Texas-based organization WallBuilders, and other religious-right leaders have also spoken at those events. The umbrella organization American Renewal Project, which Lane runs, has been facilitating the events. All of those events, including Gov. Perry's 2011 prayer extravaganza at Reliant Stadium in Houston that Lane helped organize, have contributed to a massive list of pastor email addresses from around the country. Lane's periodic messages to the pastors on that list promote a militant vision of a Christian America -- a narrow and deeply politicized vision not shared by many mainstream Christians, other people of faith and, of course, nonbelievers. In his email today, Lane promotes public school Bible study as a way to reverse what he sees as America's decline since the Supreme Court's 1963 ruling (emphasis in original): The false gods of multiculturalism, political correctness and secularism have produced: red ink as far as the eye can see, homosexuals praying at the Inauguration, 60M babies killed in the womb, the U.S. Supreme Court imposing homosexual marriage on America...judgment is on us; and like Israel, "The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years....". Judges 3:7-8 You see this, right? The "adversary" of a Christian nation disconnected the Bible and prayer -- the tie-in to God -- from public education and America's children in 1963. Reestablishing the Bible in public schools is a first step toward regaining our Christian heritage and restoring a Christian culture. God will defend himself. Lane then asks for help in finding "10 Congressmen who will sponsor a bill that calls for the return of the Bible, as a component to the curriculum, in public schools." This isn't a call for an academic study of the Bible's influence in history and literature, which the courts have said is constitutionally permissible in public schools. Lane's purpose clearly is evangelical and political in nature: America  -- having exalted and deified the false gods of multiculturalism, political correctness and secularism -- is ripe for the taking. A pagan prostitute with an ounce of faith believed God and it was accounted to her for righteousness. Rahab surrounded by a "hostile and intimidating environment", a perverse worldview imposed by a secular society, could see nothing with her eyes which would indicate the fall...she stood for the unseen against the seen, "Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God." Will a Gideon or Rahab the Harlot please stand. Texas, of course, already has plenty of experience with Bible courses that turn public school classrooms into Sunday school classrooms. Lane wants to see Congress essentially mandate the same experience in schools across the country. Lane's full email is after the jump. Read More

In what must thrill the hearts of zealots like David Barton who have spent their careers trying to drag houses of worship into partisan politics, the Washington Post reports:

Even as polls show Americans broadly oppose electioneering from the pulpit, a new report by a group of faith leaders working closely with Capitol Hill argues for ending the decades-old ban on explicit clergy endorsements.

The report being given Wednesday to Sen. Charles E. Grassley — the Iowa Republican whose office for years has been probing potential abuses by tax-exempt groups — comes as the ban has become a culture-war flashpoint.

The religious right has been trying to politicize congregations for decades now. The campaign to turn pulpits into campaign props will likely gather speed.

Even so, we’re encouraged by an opposition report from other faith leaders. According to the same Washington Post article, that report explains that the ban on electioneering “has served to protect houses of worship in America from government regulation and from divisive partisan politics dividing the church communities.”

The religious right might be willing to risk throwing out those protections, but most Americans are not.… Read More

The New York Times

In the past year, at least 5 states and numerous cities have joined a long list of places to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Here are some localities that will be formally honoring it for the first time – and what it took to get there. nyti.ms/32i8jfq