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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During the Texas State Board of Education‘s debate over science curriculum standards in 2008, supporters of sound science education succeeded in killing a provision that would have required students to learn creationism-inspired arguments about the “weaknesses” of evolution. But nine Republicans in state board races apparently will insist that new biology textbooks include those bogus “weaknesses” if they win election on November 6. Moreover, 11 GOP candidates for the state board support displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools.

The candidates made their positions clear in a voter guide questionnaire sponsored by several religious-right groups. The evolution question is particularly important because the state board is scheduled to adopt new biology textbooks in 2013. Those textbooks could be in Texas public schools for nearly a decade.

The following nine Republican candidates said they “strongly agree” with this statement: “Biology textbooks which do not teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution should be rejected by the Board.”

District 1 Charlie Garza, El Paso (incumbent) District 3 David Williams, San Antonio District 5 Ken Mercer, San Antonio (incumbent) District 6 Donna Bahorich, Houston District 7 David Bradley, Beaumont Buna… Read More

This column is cross-posted from Texas School Administrators Legal Digest Online. It is written by Texas attorney Jim Walsh, the managing editor of the Digest and co-author of The Educator’s Guide to Texas School Law.

Your school superintendent did the right thing. When he ordered the Kountze ISD cheerleaders to cease putting scripture verses reflecting a Christian point of view on the banners used at football games, the superintendent was doing exactly what he was supposed to do as a public official—he was keeping his school district aligned with the U.S. Constitution.

When the football team charges through the banner to take the field on Friday night, they embody the entire school district and community. The band is playing, the fans are cheering and the pageantry of Texas high school football is on full display. This is not the time or place for a single student to express a personal opinion on religious or political issues—even if that personal opinion also reflects the views of most of the members of the community.

Students absolutely have the right of free speech and free exercise of religion at all times, including when they are attending public school. It has been… Read More

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether a Texas church has violated federal tax law by posting a public sign urging people to “vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim.”

According to AU, the pastor of the Church in the Valley in Leakey, Texas, posted the message on the church’s marquee outside. Leakey is west of San Antonio. The full message read, “VOTE FOR THE MORMON, NOT THE MUSLIM! THE CAPITALIST, NOT THE COMMUNIST!”

From AU’s press release:

“This sign is a blatant attempt to intervene in a political campaign,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “I urge the IRS to crack down on this over-the-top law-breaking.”

ABC News reported that the sign “was an obvious reference to President Barack Obama, who conservatives say is a secret Muslim even though he says he is a Christian and attends church with his family.” The “Mormon” reference is to Gov. Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In a letter delivered to the IRS today, Lynn requested an investigation of the matter.

“Miller [the pastor]… Read More

Last month, the Duke University Center for Jewish Studies convened a 2-day conference on The Bible in the Public Square, featuring an all-star lineup of experts addressing the role of the Bible in everything from public schools and American politics, to the Middle East and popular culture. Of course no forum on this particular topic would be complete without a contribution from Dr. Mark Chancey of SMU, whose groundbreaking research on modern-day Bible electives in public schools — much of it done in partnership with the TFN Education Fund — has established him as one of the nation’s leading authorities on this subject.

Video of the conference is now online, including Dr. Chancey’s presentation on the history of Bible courses in American public schools.

We commend all the sessions to you, including (and I’m not kidding here) a truly arresting presentation by Rubén R. Dupertuis of Trinity University on a pop culture project to illustrate Bible stories using Legos. Fair warning, that clip includes graphically violent and sexually explicit imagery of famous Bible stories — in Legos. Enjoy!

 

 … Read More

Joe Brown and his wife Nina accept TFN’s 2007 Samantha Smoot Activist Award from TFN President Kathy Miller.

The TFN family lost a dear friend yesterday with the passing of Joe Brown of Houston. Joe was one of the founders of Texans for Advancement of Medical Research (TAMR), which, under Joe’s leadership, grew to become one of the state’s leading voices in the struggle to promote and protect stem cell research.

TFN worked alongside Joe and his wife Nina over a number of years, always finding them a source of encouragement and inspiration. That’s why we awarded them our highest award — the Samantha Smoot Activist Award — in 2007, noting the things that made them such effective advocates and remarkable people:… Read More