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Texas Senate Passes Bills to Inject Religion into Public Schools, Including Displaying Ten Commandments in Every Classroom

Texas public schools may be required to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom starting next school year under a bill that was approved by the Texas Senate on Thursday.[0] Senate Bill 1515 has been sent to the state House for evaluation.[1] Should they be enacted into law, both proposals would undoubtedly encounter legal resistance, as has been the trend during the protracted campaign by Christian advocates to incorporate the Ten Commandments into courtrooms and educational institutions.[2] The Supreme Court declared in 1980 that a Kentucky law requiring schools to exhibit the Ten Commandments was unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, in the case of Stone v. Graham.[3] 

In addition, the Senate approved another bill that would require schools to make time and space available for all students and staff who wish to pray or read the Bible. During the committee hearing, John Litzler, the general counsel and director of public policy at the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission, expressed opposition to the bill. Litzler raised concerns about the use of taxpayer funds to purchase religious texts and suggested that parents should be responsible for discussing religion with their children, rather than schools. On Thursday, a bill was passed by the Texas House with a goal of prohibiting sexually explicit materials in school libraries.[4] Legal professionals, librarians, and certain guardians are worried that the phrasing of the legislation is unclear and extensive enough to catch books that are not unsuitable.[5]

Many students and librarians, who are critics of the bill, have voiced their apprehension regarding its actual motives, which aim to single out literature that focuses on communities that have been historically marginalized.[5] The bill has been criticized by many legislative Democrats and civil rights advocates who claim that it seeks to restrict access to books containing LGBTQ+ content. In the meantime, there are individuals who are worried that the proposed legislation might hinder young Texans from being able to obtain literature that could aid them in dealing with difficult times.

State Senator Tan Parker's (R) Senate Bill 1556, which passed, seeks to enshrine the Supreme Court's decision on Kennedy into legislation and safeguard the ability of school staff to participate in religious discourse or prayer while working. The bill was approved with a vote of 26 in favor and 5 against.[1] Lieutenant Governor[6] Dan Patrick commended both bills, citing them as noteworthy accomplishments for the promotion of religious freedom in Texas.[7]

However, John Litzler, general counsel for the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission, told the Senate his organization opposed taxpayer money being used on religious texts and religious education. Litzler expressed in a committee hearing that she believes she has the right to educate her daughter on the concepts of adultery and coveting one's spouse.[8] Learning to read it shouldn't be a priority for her in her kindergarten classroom.[8]

Following the Kennedy ruling, the Senate passed a bill to establish the Supreme Court's decision and safeguard school staff's right to partake in religious speech and prayer while at work. In a statement, Lieutenant Governor[9][6] Dan Patrick called the bill “one step we can take to make sure that all Texans have the right to freely express their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The bills face uncertain futures in the Texas House, where lawmakers just approved legislation that would ban “sexually explicit” books from school libraries and require parental consent for “sexually relevant” books.[10] In the past two years, restrictions were imposed by the Legislature on the way K-12 teachers can approach current events and the teaching of the history of racism in America.[11]

Critics of the bill argue that it aims to limit the accessibility of books with LGBTQ+ themes and that book bans have a long history of being implemented in a discriminatory manner, disproportionately impacting books about LGBTQ characters and Black and brown characters. Some have expressed concerns that the bill may prevent Texas students, particularly teenagers, from accessing books that could assist them in navigating challenging periods.

In conclusion, the Texas Senate has passed several bills that would inject religion into public schools, including one that would require the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every classroom and another that would allow time and space for prayer and Bible reading. However, these bills may face legal challenges and have been met with criticism from those who believe they could limit access to diverse perspectives and discriminate against marginalized communities. The bills now head to the state House for consideration.[0]

0. “Texas Senate passes bills allowing time for prayer in schools, requiring Ten Commandments in classrooms” FOX 4 News Dallas-Fort Worth, 22 Apr. 2023, https://www.fox4news.com/news/texas-senate-sb-1515-ten-commandments-school-prayer

1. “Texas bill would require Ten Commandments in public school classrooms” The Washington Post, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/04/21/texas-bill-ten-commandments-public-schools-religion

2. “Texas Republicans Seem Hell-Bent on Turning K–12 Schools Into Churches” Vanity Fair, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/04/texas-republican-turning-k-12-schools-into-churches

3. “Ten Commandments in Texas public schools? SB 1515 moves to House” San Antonio Express-News, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.expressnews.com/politics/article/texas-senate-ten-commandments-17911409.php

4. “Texas Democrat Defends Her Book Ban Support” Newsweek, 20 Apr. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/texas-democrat-defends-her-book-ban-support-1795476

5. “Texas AFT :Recap: This Week at the Legislature” Texas AFT, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.texasaft.org/government/legislature/recap-this-week-at-the-legislature-3

6. “Ban on Tenure for New Faculty Hires Passes Texas Senate” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 Apr. 2023, https://www.chronicle.com/article/ban-on-tenure-for-new-faculty-hires-passes-texas-senate

7. “Texas Public Schools Would Have To Display Ten Commandments Under New Bill” Local Profile, 21 Apr. 2023, https://localprofile.com/2023/04/21/texas-schools-display-ten-commandments/

8. “Public schools would have to display Ten Commandments under bill passed by Texas Senate” KTRK-TV, 21 Apr. 2023, https://abc13.com/texas-news-education-ten-commandments-bill-passed-by-senate/13161938/

9. “Is a Texas bill requiring the Ten Commandments in public schools bad for the state’s Jews?” Forward, 21 Apr. 2023, https://forward.com/fast-forward/544192/texas-bill-ten-commandments-public-schools-jews

10. “Texas Senate passes bill requiring public school classrooms to display Ten Commandments” CNN, 22 Apr. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/04/22/us/texas-senate-passes-bill-ten-commandments/index.html

11. “Texas Senate approves bills requiring 10 Commandments in classrooms” The Week, 21 Apr. 2023, https://theweek.com/texas/1022871/texas-senate-approves-bills-requiring-10-commandments-in-k-12-classrooms-bible-time