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)

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

TFN Insider is pleased to present this guest post from Rev. Beth Ellen Cooper of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands north of Houston. Rev. Cooper participated in TFN’s clergy gathering in March in support of women’s access to birth control and state funding for family planning. She blogs regularly for the Houston Chronicle at Keep the Faith. Rev. Cooper also posted on TFN Insider about her experience in being lectured on morality by legislative staffers at the Texas Capitol.

Last Thursday, I attended a meeting of the Montgomery County Texas Eagle Forum, which featured reports on the latest special sessions of the Texas Legislature from state representatives Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; and Cecile Bell Jr., R-Magnolia. This forum of ultra-conservatives was a proverbial lion’s den for a religious progressive like myself. But I am firm believer that there is no progress without dialogue, and no dialogue is possible if you don’t show up to ask the questions.

Besides. They sent an invitation to my church. It seemed rude not to accept.

So I went, in clerical collar, prepared to… Read More

Following is even more proof that self-styled “historian” David Barton is little more than a propaganda artist: now he’s rewriting his own history. Yet Barton’s distorted versions of history are still getting traction on the political right, as Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston demonstrated last week.

Let’s start with Barton.

The president of Texas-based WallBuilders, an organization dedicated to rewriting American history and rejecting separation of church and state, has faced a number of embarrassments lately. Last year a religious publisher halted publication of Barton’s book about Thomas Jefferson, citing factual errors throughout. That came just weeks after Christian conservative scholars panned Barton’s work. Earlier this year writer Chris Rodda discovered that Barton had used a Louis L’Amour novel as a source for historical claims about 1800s America. We also caught Barton spreading falsehoods, including his false claim last fall that President Obama had ignored “God” in his four Thanksgiving proclamations.

Now it looks like Barton is trying to paper over one of his biggest blunders: bogus quotations he has in the past attributed to some of America’s Founders and various other important figures in our nation’s… Read More

Texas state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, thinks he’s somehow qualified to tell local school districts and teachers what instructional materials they can use in their classrooms, but he doesn’t have a very good understanding of the basics of American constitutional freedoms. Speaking at the Mims Baptist Church in Conroe this past weekend, the Houston Press reports, Patrick informed congregants:

“There is no separation of church and state. It was not in the constitution.”

That declaration is unlikely to persuade a U.S. Supreme Court that has issued numerous rulings upholding separation of church and state under the U.S. Constitution over the span of many decades. Moreover, 68 percent of likely Texas voters responding to a poll conducted for the TFN Education Fund in May 2010 agreed that “separation of church and state is a key principle of our Constitution.”

Of course, it’s hardly surprising that Sen. Patrick would say such a thing. He has already announced his campaign for lieutenant governor, and pandering to religious-right voters who also oppose separation of church and state seems like a natural strategy for him.… Read More

Peggy Venable, head of the Texas chapter of the right-wing group Americans for Prosperity, doesn’t seem to understand the concept of religious freedom very well. Here’s what she tweeted about state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, as the Texas House began what is always a long day at the end of a legislative session:

Not all Texans share the same religious beliefs, of course. Nor does religious faith require (nor necessarily benefit) from the favor of government. So we see nothing disappointing about giving legislators the opportunity to pray or reflect individually, in their own ways, on the important day before them. Rep. Howard simply demonstrated real respect for religious freedom for all.

We are also proud to say that Rep. Howard served for a number of years on the Texas Freedom Network’s Board of Directors.… Read More