Happy Birthday: TFN Marks 25 years as a Progressive Champion in Texas

Cecile Richards wanted to see for herself how much the religious right was expanding its influence in the halls of Texas government. So in January 1995, Cecile attended her first State Board of Education meeting, watching how religious-righters on the board were hijacking textbook adoptions to promote their political agenda. “It’s worse than I imagined,” she scribbled on a note to a friend at the meeting. One month later, on Feb. 17, 1995, Cecile founded the Texas Freedom Network as a counter to the radical right in this state. As we celebrate the organization’s anniversary 25 years later, TFN is still that counter to far-right extremism — but it’s become so much more. Check out our press release today.

Founder Cecile Richards Filed TFN’s Incorporation Papers 25 Years Ago Today

February 17, 2020

AUSTIN – Founded as a counter to the growing influence of the religious right in the state, the Texas Freedom Network today marks 25 years of bringing together faith leaders, young people and communities of color in support of a broad progressive agenda in a changing Texas.

“On issues ranging from textbook censorship and private school vouchers to LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom and voting rights, we have helped ensure that progressive voices — especially voices of young people and progressive people of faith —  are at the table when policymakers have taken their votes for the past 25 years,” said Kathy Miller, TFN’s current and longest-serving president. “Now we are putting the resources, the experience and the infrastructure in place to reshape the political landscape of a new Texas that is younger, increasingly diverse and more progressive. That’s a big lift for sure, but the communities we help organize are playing a bigger role in choosing who will be the elected leaders making policy decisions in the future.”

Cecile Richards filed TFN’s incorporation papers in Texas on Feb. 17, 1995. Just weeks earlier, she had attended her first meeting of the State Board of Education, where social conservatives had become an increasingly influential force in censoring textbook content on issues ranging from sex education to the teaching of evolution. “It’s worse than I imagined,” Richards scribbled in a note to a colleague – a founding note framed on the wall in TFN’s conference room today.

Richards, the daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards, later moved on to other leadership positions in the progressive movement, including as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and, currently, the founder of Supermajority.

In a state where mostly men have dominated politics, all three of TFN’s presidents have been women. Samantha Smoot succeeded Richards as TFN president in 1998. Miller began her tenure as president at the end of 2004.

TFN has grown to more than 130,000 supporters. Texas Rising, with a presence on more than 20 college and university campuses around the state, has become one of TFN’s most important programs. Texas Rising provides training and political organizing opportunities for Texans ages 18-29 and is registering 100,000 new young voters in Texas this year alone. Texas Rising Action issued its first election endorsements this month in a state where voter turnout among young people surged in 2018.

TFN created the Texas Faith Network in 1996 to bring together moderate and progressive faith leaders to counter the religious right’s misuse of religion as a political weapon. Today TFN organizes its work with progressive faith communities under the Just Texas banner.

Clergy and other faith leaders associated with Just Texas advocate on a slate of issues, including LGBTQ equality and reproductive freedom, at the state Capitol and in communities across Texas. Over the past two years, for example, Just Texas clergy have gathered to bless abortion clinics, the women who seek care there and their health care providers. In addition, TFN’s Reproductive Freedom Congregations initiative recognizes religious congregations that publicly affirm women’s right to reproductive freedom, including access to abortion. These efforts counter the narrative that people of faith must oppose abortion.

A timeline for TFN over the past 25 years is available here.


The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization building an informed and effective movement for equality and social justice.