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

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

When we published Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011-12, we expected pushback from some of the districts we discussed. But no one has protested more vigorously than the minister who authored the Amarillo Independent School District’s Bible curriculum and currently teaches its course. This teacher has complained loudly and repeatedly to the local press that we seriously misrepresented his materials–basically, that we broke the commandment not to bear false witness.

Actually, we just did with the Amarillo course materials exactly what we did with those from other problematic classes: we quoted from them verbatim and pointed out ways in which they fell short academically or unconstitutionally promoted one religious viewpoint over others.

When it comes to Amarillo’s Bible course, we found a lot of problematic elements, but the one that has the received the most attention is a chart titled “Racial Origins Traced from Noah.”

A test question shows that students were expected to know the chart, asking: “Shem is the father of a) most Germanic races B) the Jewish people  C) all African people.”

Our report cited this approach as a red flag: “The idea that racial… Read More

Students in some Texas public school Bible courses learn that the Founding Fathers were largely orthodox Protestant Christians who intended for the United States to be a distinctively Christian nation with laws and a form of government based on the Bible. Countless historians and other scholars have shown how such claims are distortions, but those distortions are core beliefs among ideologues on the religious right. The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund’s new report, Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011-12 by Prof. Mark Chancey at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, documents one prominent way such courses promote this ideological perspective: “proof by sound bite.” From the report:

“The most common technique for making such arguments is to string together quotations lauding the Bible, Christianity or religion in general from political philosophers, historic documents, the Founding Fathers and other famous Americans. These quotations are typically cited in a completely decontextualized manner, almost as if they are biblical proof texts with self-evident meanings. Fake quotes never actually uttered by the speaker to whom they are attributed are cited side by side with legitimate ones. Even authentic quotes are sometimes presented in such a way as… Read More

The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund’s newest study of Texas public school Bible courses reveals that many of these classes promote faith beliefs as fact. Such courses clearly veer from the academic to the devotional, violating both Texas law and the U.S. Constitution. The report, Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011-12 by Prof. Mark Chancey at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, includes this PowerPoint slide from Dalhart ISD in the Texas Panhandle:

School districts across Texas offer many other examples of Bible courses that have turned public school classrooms into Sunday school classrooms. For example, the only classroom resource listed by Lazbuddie ISD declares in its introduction:

“Don’t worry about scriptures you do not understand. Simply concentrate on what God reveals to you in His Word and trust Him to make the vague things clearer to you as you continue to study.”

From materials used in Eastland ISD:

“The Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by over 40 different authors from all walks of life: shepherds, farmers, tent-makers, physicians, fishermen, priests, philosophers and kings. Despite these differences in occupation and the span of years… Read More