Lawmakers in Texas want schools to teach religion.
Lawmakers in Texas want schools to teach religion.© Images AGN

In a troubling but not totally unexpected move, Republicans in the Texas statehouse have taken the first steps toward passing three bills that would bring religion into public schools. One law says that the Ten Commandments must be shown “in a prominent place” in every public school classroom. Another bill will let schools make prayer and Bible reading time part of every school day for kids and staff who agree to take part.

A third bill would give school workers the right to “engage in religious speech or prayer while on duty.”

It’s not the first time that Republicans in Texas have tried to bring religion into public schools. In 2021, the state passed a law that said schools had to put up “In God we trust” signs that were given to them.

And if you don’t think these bills have a chance of being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on constitutional grounds, you’re wrong.

Lawmakers in Texas pointed out that these bills were made possible when the Supreme Court agreed with Joe Kennedy, a high school football coach in Washington state who was fired for praying at games. The judge decided that Kennedy was praying as a private citizen and not as a district worker.

Who did that coach work for? The First Liberty Institute is the group that gave us Matthew Kacsmaryk, the federal judge in Texas who lit the legal spark to get mifepristone taken off the market.

How cute that they’re related.

The bill’s author, Texas state Sen. Phil King, said that the Ten Commandments are part of American history and that it’s time to teach them again in schools.

Related video: The Texas Senate moves forward with a plan that would make schools show the Ten Commandments | CUOMO (News Nation)

I looked at the Constitution just now. The Ten Commandments were not mentioned at all. In the meantime, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants to free a man who has been accused of killing someone. (Governor, you might want to check that Sixth Commandment.)

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement that the bills are a victory for religious freedom in Texas. In a statement, the Republican said, “I will always fight for religious freedom in Texas.” “Letting the Ten Commandments and prayer back into our public schools is one way to make sure that all Texans have the right to freely express their sincere religious beliefs.”

I thought the word for that was “church.”

Putting the Ten Commandments in front of all children is not what I would call “religious liberty.” Even though students who don’t give permission don’t have to take part in prayer and Bible readings, it’s not like they won’t know about it or won’t be scared or affected by peer pressure.

In fact, the First Commandment comes straight from the Old Testament books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. It says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

Some of these kids might bring a prayer rug to school. Let’s find out what happens when an imam asks to lead the noon call to prayer in a classroom. You can give the prayer rugs to the kids and show them how to face Mecca. Or, a rabbi could lead the kids in readings from the five books that make up the Jewish Pentateuch.

I’m also curious about which version of the Ten Commandments they’re putting up.The Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or the Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912? (If you’re asking, that’s a reference to an Emo Philips joke.)

That still doesn’t answer my question about which form the Texas Republicans want.

The Decalogue, which includes the Ten Commandments, is a part of Jewish history. However, even within the Jewish religion, the rules and their order are different in the Medieval Roman and Greek Orthodox forms.

I don’t think Sen. King or any other Texas politician will answer my question. It’s too hard for them to answer, and they don’t seem to care much about history anyway. Any past other than what they thought it was.

As an example: In a statement, a fellow Republican from the same state called the separation of church and state a “false doctrine” and tweeted, “Our schools are not God-free zones.”

Yeah, well, neither are your schools Constitution-free zones.

Why don’t these politicians spend more time thinking about what kids can learn in school instead of what they can force them to learn?

We can’t do that either, sorry. In Texas, it’s okay to teach people about religion, but it’s not okay to talk about how racist the country has been and still is.

Oh, and if it matters, the original slogan of the country was “E pluribus unum,” which means “Out of many, one.” In 1956, Congress chose to use “In God We Trust” because they thought it would show those godless communists in Soviet Russia a thing or two.

Public schools have no reason to force kids to take part in organized religious events. This is why we have Sunday school and parents.

Imagine how angry people would be if a bill said that churches should teach history and science on Sundays and that the Constitution and the First Amendment should be posted “in a prominent place” in every church. Let’s make a law that says Sunday schools have to teach about the Bill of Rights.

Ten Commandments, Ten Amendments. Seems right.

How about a big sign that says, “Read your Darwin?”

There are two law ideas at play here. The First Amendment is the most obvious one. In its first clause, it says, “Congress shall not make any law respecting an establishment of religion.” In the past, the Supreme Court has always taken that to mean that actions taken by the government must have a “secular purpose.”

Since these are the first words in the Bill of Rights, the country’s first formal document, it’s clear that the Framers thought this separation was important.

A bit about the law:

The Supreme Court has often decided against state and local laws that go against what the 14th Amendment says. The first 10 amendments say that the states must defend the rights of each person, like that silly one about religion. Just like the federal government, the states cannot “make any law respecting an establishment of religion.”

There are a number of reasons to sue the Texas measures.

Does a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of a state building go against the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? This clause says that the government can’t make laws that “establish” a religion.

In 2005, in Van Orden v. Perry, the judges said “no.” In a 5–4 ruling, the court said that a passive monument with religious content was not an act of the state-sanctioned religion and did not violate the Establishment Clause.

In the 1980 case Stone v. Graham, however, the court said that putting up the Ten Commandments in public school classes was against the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. The court ruled, 5 to 4, that (A) putting up the Ten Commandments “had no secular legislative purpose” and (B) it was “clearly religious in nature.”

In McCreary County, Kentucky, v. ACLU, a case from 2005, the justices decided, 5-4, that putting framed copies of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public schools was against the Establishment Clause because it was meant to promote religion.

And in 1962, in the famous case Engel v. Vitale, the court said that New York’s practice of starting school days with a prayer written by the state Board of Regents was against the Establishment Clause. It was a private prayer, but the court said no. Even though students could choose whether or not to take part in the prayer, it still broke the Establishment Clause of the 14th Amendment.

All of this shows that Texas’s constitutional rights are not very strong. But right now, the Supreme Court is made up of 6-3 conservatives, so any assumptions a fair person might make are also shaky.

It makes me wonder if the Texas politicians don’t know what the U.S. Constitution says.

Take Texas state Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston), who wrote one of the Texas bills (Senate Bill 1396) and called the separation of church and state a “false doctrine.” (And please don’t bring up Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado. We already know that she is a vain, empty-headed source of stupidity.) Doesn’t the senator know that 12 of the original 13 colonies were started by people who were fleeing religious oppression of some kind? (Only Georgia wasn’t, because it was a debtor’s colony.) And Rhode Island was started by a Pilgrim who was trying to get away from the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims had fled oppression in Britain, but once they got here, they decided to do their own persecution of people who didn’t agree with them. Because of this, Roger Williams founded Providence.

If the Framers, who were well-educated men (unlike our Texas lawmakers, it seems), had wanted to create a certain religion, they would have said so clearly.

So, you can’t look at the original 13 Colonies and say that the Framers wanted anything other than a government that guarantees religious freedom and keeps civil and religious power separate.

Don’t worry about how religious (or not religious) the Founding Fathers were. Some were religious, but others were not. Some people prayed, but others didn’t care. But they all agreed to keep church and government separate. That’s why our founding documents don’t say anything about religion. Why is that so hard for us to figure out?

Are the people who run Texas really that stupid? Or are they just not interested?

I’m not sure they even know what the Bible says.

As the good book says, give to Caesar. Or should we think back to the story of the two men who went to pray? In the front row, people pray out loud and brag about it. The other person is humble, with his head bowed and his mouth shut. He isn’t even in the temple.

“For whoever lifts himself up will be brought down, and whoever lowers himself will be raised up.” (Luke 14:1, for those who like to quote the Bible in Texas.)

How could this lesson be forgotten? It’s in the handbook of the people who want to push religion into public schools, of course their own religion. Not yours.

Should we be like the proud Pharisees, whom Jesus called liars, or like the humble publican?

Christians should really try to be more Christian and less Republican on the right.

The real question, which I’ve never been able to get a good answer to, is: Why do we have to mix faith and politics at all? You do what you think is right, and I’ll do the same in secret. If you want to be a missionary because of what you believe, that’s fine. If I wanted to be a missionary because of my religious views (or lack thereof), I would expect the same respect. But neither of us should use the government to get what we want. The First Amendment says that you can’t do that.

What the politicians in Texas are doing is called “religious mission creep.” In addition to not respecting the idea that church and state should be kept separate, their actions openly disrespect a parent’s right to decide whether to raise their children religiously or not. Still, Texas politicians have the nerve to say this is about religious freedom for students.

Why can’t religious people just let people be? No one should tell you how to practice your religion because it is too personal. If your faith makes you feel good, enjoy it and let other people enjoy theirs. When religion was taught in places of worship, parents who wanted their children to learn more about religion sent them to private schools. Parents, not the government, chose what was best for their children. Isn’t this the fight that Republicans have been making in recent school board meetings, where everyone yells at each other?

Instead, freedom of faith is taking away from the freedom not to believe in something. Both are important parts of the First Amendment, but if you weaken one, you will destroy the other.

Religion itself isn’t the problem; it’s the people who are very religious. Before bringing others in, religious people might want to clean their own homes.

We might want to pray that they do.

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