Church-State Separation Battles Are Bigger in Texas by Vanessa Wolbrink


Jun 6, 2013 by Vanessa Wolbrink in Legislative

The Texas 2013 session was better than expected, considering several pieces of legislation that potentially could have threatened the religious liberty of Texas citizens. Thankfully, most of this legislation failed to pass. Here are some interesting bills that caught the eyes of us here at Americans United:

HCR 58 would have condoned religion in public spaces by allowing religious displays on public property as well as prayer and the mention of “God” in public gatherings. Eric Lane, president of the San Antonio Chapter of Americans United, submitted a letter along with the Texas Freedom Network on behalf of Texas AU members and supporters opposing this legislation, which, in the end, never passed in the House.

The legislature also introduced various bills attempting to create private school voucher programs, which would have funneled public money to private and religious schools (SB 17, SB 115, HB 1175, SB 8), but they all failed to pass.

Discrimination exemptions also came up this session. HB 360 would have allowed student groups at institutions of higher education to openly discriminate in their membership while still receiving full funding and privileges from the college or university. Eric Lane submitted a letter on behalf of AU in opposition; fortunately, the bill failed to pass in the House.

Additionally, HJR 110, would have amended the Texas Constitution to allegedly protect religious freedoms, but instead would have endangered civil rights by allowing people to use religion as an excuse to discriminate. Eric Lane again submitted a letter for AU opposing this resolution. It also failed to pass.

The Texas legislature also failed to pass SB 1639, a bill prohibiting the application of “foreign laws” in the state courts.  This bill was really anti-Sharia legislation, motivated by anti-Muslim animus and a manufactured fear that Sharia Law is being implemented in Texas and the U.S. Lane submitted a letter opposing the bill, and the bill never passed in the Senate.

Oddly, given all of the legislature’s failure to pass more dramatic religious freedom bills, the only one with traction is the so-called Merry Christmas bill. Supporters of HB 308 claimed it would remove the alleged legal risks of saying “Merry Christmas” and displaying traditional holiday symbols in Texas public schools. Several people even arrived at the Capitol dressed as Santa Claus and rang sleigh bells on the day the House passed the bill. The unnecessary bill has now passed in both chambers and the Governor has until June 16 to sign or veto it. If you live in Texas, you still have time to tell Governor Perry to veto HB 308.

Thanks to Eric Lane and the San Antonio Chapter of Americans United for great work this year! Of course, many of these bills can be picked up in the 2014 session. AU will continue to stand up for religious freedom in Texas, and all over the country. If you’d like to sign up for our updates and action alerts, check out our website!



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