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)

At a time when the Southern Baptist Convention has fallen completely under the control of religious fundamentalists who seek to use government to promote their own ideological views, it might be hard to remember the long tradition of Baptist support for separation of church and state. Many Baptists still support it. Take, for example, the Rev. Charles Johnson, pastor of Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth. On Tuesday he spoke before the Texas Senate Education Committee against Senate Bill 23, a measure that would provide state tax credits to businesses that fund voucher scholarships for students at private and religious schools. He was testifying on behalf of the Christian Life Commission and the Coalition for Public Schools. TFN is a member of that coalition, which opposes private school voucher schemes.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the author of SB 23 and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has argued repeatedly that his bill doesn’t create a government-funded voucher program that subsidizes tuition at nonpublic schools. But Rev. Johnson clearly and correctly explained that the bill’s tax breaks for businesses would take money that would otherwise go to public schools and send it to private… Read More

In an impromptu meeting called at the close of the Senate’s regular business on Wednesday, the Business and Commerce Committee quietly — and narrowly — voted to pass Senate Bill 1639 by a vote of 5-4. Based on our quick review of the audio file of the meeting, the vote count was as follows:

Yes: Carona (R), Taylor (R), Eltife (R),  Hancock (R), Lucio (D)

 No: Estes (R), Van de Putte (D), Watson (D), Whitmire (D)

It’s not exactly surprising to see a measure targeting the mythical threat of Sharia law advance in Texas — it’s certainly not the first time. But given the overwhelming chorus of voices that unequivocally demonstrated that there is no problem with Sharia law in Texas courts, it is  a little disconcerting.

And yet, some on the committee were clearly listening to that testimony. Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, explained why he joined with three Democrats on the committee to vote against the measure:

Senator Carona, I want to first start by saying that I believe this bill was filed with the best of intentions. I think… Read More

Last Wednesday, the Texas House Committee on State Affairs took testimony on HJR 110, by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, which would add a modified version of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to the state constitution.

TFN supported passage of Texas RFRA in 1999, and we think it has been working just fine since then. But HJR 110 is not the RFRA of old. The amendment’s vague, overly broad language could create all sorts of unintended consequences and would undoubtedly lead to expensive litigation.

And nobody has explained those potential consequences better than former state Rep. Scott Hochberg did at last week’s State Affairs hearing:

Read More

A rare moment of rational debate broke out in the Texas Senate last week in the most unlikely of places — a committee hearing on a proposal to ban Texas courts from imposing  “foreign law” (code for Sharia law) on citizens. Hearings on this contentious subject in previous years have been marked by open bigotry and wild accusations against Muslim Americans.  But the Senate Business & Commerce Committee’s consideration of SB 1639 by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, took a different tone.

There were, to be sure, several testifiers who warned of the threat of a “hostile system of laws that has crept into our community” and peddled thinly veiled paranoia. But after these folks had their say, the committee heard from  a parade of informed, thoughtful testifiers who systematically took apart the case for the bill. Pastors, interfaith groups, civil liberty organizations and attorneys specializing in family law each in their turn challenged the need for — and motivation behind — the proposed bill.

The key exchange came at the end of incisive testimony by Karl Hayes of the Texas Family Law Foundation:

Hayes: “None of the proponents who have come forth to testify on this… Read More

Moses State Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton

In week full of religious liberty skirmishes at the Texas Capitol, we would be remiss if we did not flag the most ridiculous church-state proposal we’ve seen this session: HCR 58 by state Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton — a publicity stunt masquerading as a House Concurrent Resolution. The resolution concludes:

RESOLVED, That the 83rd Legislature of the State of Texas hereby support prayers, including the use of the word “God,” at public gatherings as well as displays of the Ten Commandments in public educational institutions and other government buildings.

In other words, Rep. Stephenson is asking his fellow legislators to join him in promoting divisive and unconstitutional practices.

There are plenty of problems with this resolution — its embrace of  a flawed, David Barton-esque version of US History, a clear hostility toward any Texan who doesn’t share Rep. Stephenson’s mono-theistic faith, promoting nakedly partisan talking points from the Texas GOP platform. But we’ll limit our criticism to the obvious. The resolution calls for activities already ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. As recently as 2005 (in McCrearyRead More