Religious Expression

In Texas this week, Governor Perry celebrated the June passage of the state’s Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act in a ceremonial signing with schoolchildren at Clements High School in Sugar Land.

According to Perry:

“In a society where lawsuits long-ago replaced honest discussion, a culture of fear has led to limitations on our freedoms,” said Gov. Perry. “This trend has been especially troubling in our public schools; places created for the exchange of ideas, the expression of values and the shaping of lives.”

In one case, a school prohibited students from wishing a “Merry Christmas” to troops serving overseas. Another school reprimanded a first grader for invoking the name and image of Jesus when she was asked what she thinks of when she thinks of Easter.

“It is my hope that this bill and its guidelines for preserving freedom of faith-related speech will lower the tension level in our schools. Under its clear guidelines, teachers can teach and administrators can lead, knowing they are following a sensible, time-honored, and legal approach to self-expression,” said Gov. Perry.

Kudos to Texas legislators and to Governor Perry for creating and passing this measure – it was long overdue. The act’s text is brief and to the point and is perhaps best represented by Article V:

Students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs, “see you at the pole” gatherings, and other religious gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other noncurricular student activities and groups. Religious groups must be given the same access to school facilities for assembling as is given to other noncurricular groups, without discrimination based on the religious content of the group’s expression. If student groups that meet for nonreligious activities are permitted to advertise or announce the groups’ meetings, for example, by advertising in a student newspaper, putting up posters, making announcements on a student activities bulletin board or public address system, or handing out leaflets, school authorities may not discriminate against groups that meet for prayer or other religious speech. School authorities may disclaim sponsorship of noncurricular groups and events, provided they administer the disclaimer in a manner that does not favor or disfavor groups that meet to engage in prayer or other religious speech.

Not everyone will agree, I am sure. But that’s to be expected. The churches of atheism and liberalism have long held sway in America’s public schools and will not appreciate having to accomodate Christian student groups.

Indeed, it wasn’t long after the bill’s passage that Steven Schafersman, among others, began to work the drums of fear in a strident rhythm:

The following is a letter sent to all members of the Senate Education Committee before their debate and vote, explaining why HB 3678 is illegal (unconstitutional), disingenuous, anti-scientific, and mean-spirited. Despite the entreaty, the Howard-Chisum stealth bill was passed and ultimately signed into law by Governor Rick Perry on June 15, 2007. Once the effects of this poorly-thought out statute are in force in Texas, an enormous amount of First Amendment litigation will occur. The bill–now a law–is an example of the powerful Texas radical religious right’s aggressive program to promote and force their sectarian religious beliefs into the public school environment using the power of the state. They do this to counter the Constitutional secular and neutral nature of the public school system, and to reinforce the almost pervasive religious proselytization of children in Texas society. The religion promoted and forced into the public schools by this new statute will be, of course, Protestant Christianity. The new law will obligate captive audiences of tens of thousands of school children to listen to Protestant Christian prayers and mini-sermons under the guidance and direction of state authorities (school administrators).

Dear Senator, I urge you to reject HB 3678, the so-called “Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act,” that is being considered by the Senate Education Committee. The bill is a stealth bill whose true purpose is to promote religious discrimination and proselytizing in public schools, with the additional purpose of damaging science education in biology courses.

The bill is written to appear to be neutral and lawful, but First Amendment Constitutional law already protects legitimate student expressions of religion. The purpose of this bill is to allow students to aggressively state their beliefs about creationism in science and Protestant Christianity in history, health, and other classrooms without fear of contradiction by teachers.

The bill creates an officious and burdensome framework that every school district must create and adopt to carry out the stipulations of the bill. This is an authoritarian and even draconian solution to a non-existent problem. The bill’s analysis by Rep. Howard is flatly wrong. He writes, “School children are being censored and reprimanded at school, leaving them in fear of punishment for their religious beliefs. Due to hostility toward religious expression, children are being forced to defend their First Amendment rights in courtrooms all across Texas, and throughout the nation. School districts’ practices and policies continue to violate the free speech rights of students, regardless of court decisions to the contrary.” This is all untrue.

Howard and Chisum’s religious expression bill is a sham; it is a stealth bill designed not to permit legitimate and proper religious expression (which is already protected), but to promote creationism and encourage sectarian proselytization by extreme right-wing Protestant Christians. If enacted, the new law will create an adversarial environment in which intimidation of religious minorities will become commonplace. The bill will certainly lead to massive amounts of litigation as religious minorities are increasingly affected.

Typical anti-Christian dogma, in other words. Evidently Schafersman envisions a veritable army of teenage preachers holding sway during biology class and the nation falling apart as a result.

What nonsense. The harm done to American college students by a single semester’s political science class – 50 hours of state-mandated indocrination in the alleged virtues of leftist liberalism – is much greater than the sum of all high school kids bold enough to stand up in front of their peers and profess their faith.

Who’s going to get beat up after school? The pack of ne’er-do-wells sniggering in the back of the classroom or the boy who stands up at the front alone and lays out his beliefs for all to see and accept or ridicule?

Schafersman also makes a point about the expense to Texas taxpayers when the inevitable First Amendment lawsuits are filed. This is a valid concern as there is no shortage of litigation-happy fools in this country, Texas being no exception.

Speaking about the law, Perry says this:

“For years, our children have not been able to share their faith and beliefs for fear that they’ll end up in the principal’s office. That’s sure not the American way and that’s sure not the Texas way.”

That’s exactly right. Read the Constitution if you think I’m wrong. Liberals hinge their argument against school prayer, nativity scenes, plays, WWJD bracelets, etc. on the First Amendment. This reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, …

Where is the silver bullet that’s been used to exclude religion from public life? Not in that phrase, surely. Russell Miller, a left-leaning liberal blogger I’ve had discussions with in the past, invokes the 14th Amendment to bolster the 1st. Yet the 14th merely states:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, …

As an argument against public religion this is anemic at best. Worse still, it’s only marginally relevant, particularly when contrasted against the powerful clarity of the 10th:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 14th Amendment is only relevant if the 1st is assumed to apply – it provides no support whatever to the validity of the 1st. Therefore, the issue is strictly a question of the 1st Amendment versus the 10th. Perry, a politician I don’t care much for, gets this issue exactly right.

Cracking down on kids for speaking about their faith is NOT the Texas way. Furthermore, contorting the 1st and 14th Amendments does not justify the federal government in restricting our citizens from expressing their faith, young or old, in school or out.

I hope that when related cases inevitably reach the Supreme Court that the justices will recognize the state’s right to determine its own standards, as guaranteed by the 10th Amendment. But I doubt that they will.

Regardless, in all respects but that of taxpayer expense – a cost Texas legislators undoubtedly considered and found acceptable – the anti-Christian lobby gets it completely backward. In fact, they seem to have utterly missed what should be the biggest controversy about the new law: minority religious expression and the friction it will create.

What will happen when Muslim students decide to organize a Religion of Peace club at the local high school?

As to that we can only wait and see.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Author: marc

Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

3 thoughts on “Religious Expression”

  1. Marc,

    I take exception to being called a “liberal”, especially when in another post you took great pains to point out where you yourself differ from the conservative establishment. I tend to lean a bit left but as you yourself have pointed out I have some opinions that lean right (witness the first time you posted about me). If I’m anything, I’m a left-leaning centrist.

    I know it’s just a label, but “liberal” has a connotation I really don’t think I deserve to be associated with.

    I’m not going to address your actual criticisms here, if I do I’ll pingback to you from my own blog. Thanks.

Comments are closed.