In a disturbing trend this legislative session, multiple Republican lawmakers are working to tear down the wall between Christian churches and public schools.
The Texas Senate passed SB 1515 last Thursday that would require public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms. The law mandates it be displayed in a conspicuous space and in a large enough format as to be easily readable. All 12 Democrats voted against the bill, which now heads to the Texas House. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick celebrated the passage.
“Allowing the Ten Commandments and prayer back into our public schools is one step we can take to make sure that all Texas have the right to freely express their sincerely held religious beliefs,” he said in a statement.
Another bill that also passed 17-12 would mandate that students be given time to read the Bible and pray in school.
The movement toward overt Christianization of Texas public schools comes after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Washington football coach’s right to pray after games last year. The ruling was heralded by religious extremists as a win for forcing Christian beliefs into public schools. At no point have Texas students ever been barred from praying, forming religious clubs or groups, or reading the Bible during times when any other extracurricular reading was also allowed.
Not only are Texas Republicans seeking to force Christian doctrine into public schools, they are also trying to funnel students from secular education into religious institutions. The push for school vouchers this year has many religious overtones. Governor Greg Abbott toured the state promoting his plan to allow Texas parents to use up to $8,000 of taxpayer money for private school tuition. While there has been some talk of how this could allow disabled and special needs kids better access to appropriate education, Abbott chose to make his case for vouchers in Christian schools that promote Bible study and religious services during school hours.
The fact is that nine cents of every dollar that is spent of vouchers tends to go to Christian private schools in states where such voucher systems have passed. Meanwhile, the “school choice” argument being made by many advocates often dances around the idea that diversity initiatives in public schools, particularly lessons or books that celebrate or explore LGBT issues, are opposed to many parents’ fundamentally held beliefs. Those beliefs cannot be divorced from extreme Christianity, particularly since much of the money in the fight comes from two far-right Christian oil and gas moguls.
Not every step the Texas legislature is making marches the state toward theocracy. Vouchers were handily voted down in the House, though the fight is far from over. The House Education Committee endorsed a bill that would allow chaplains to work as school counselors, which could help the state deal with its incredible counselor shortage.
There is no doubt, though, that Texas Republicans are using this moment to attack the separation of church and state. In the Senate, at least, they are winning.