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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

What separation?

State Rep. Warren Chisum works hard to erode the line between church and state.

Editorial, The Houston Chronicle, April 13, 2007

State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, is a busy man. Too busy, it sometimes seems.

One would think he'd have enough on his plate as chair of the budget-setting House Appropriations Committee, the most powerful committee in either chamber of the Legislature. But he has ample time to sponsor and support a number of bills under the aegis of the Texas Conservative Coalition, of which he is an active member and a former leader.

Many of those bills are unabashedly tailored to introduce religious precepts cloaked in a secular aura of wholesome family values. The effect is an attack on the wall that divides church from state.

Let us count just a few of the ways Chisum has squandered the taxpayers' time and money in his quest to bring religion into government: His latest crusade is part of a Texas Conservative Coalition agenda to cut down on divorce rates and reduce financial burdens on the newly single, who will then, the reasoning goes, be less dependent on poverty programs. Proposals include voluntary prenuptial classes, marriage contracts and measures to discourage divorce. (Whatever happened to the part of the Texas Republican Platform that says, "We believe in a strong and vibrant public sector unencumbered by excessive government regulations"?)

As seems to be par for the course, Chisum's first installment, a so-called "healthy marriage" bill, is already ailing: the House originally voted to more than triple the $30 marriage license fee to $100, which would be waived if couples took a prenuptial class, taught by anyone from counselors to clergy. But Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, swayed the House, calling it a "marriage tax," and said it made no sense to promote marriage by raising the license fee. The House then voted to keep the fee at $30, thereby effectively gutting the bill.

The House also passed another Chisum bill, which would fund pre- nuptial and crisis courses from federal grant money where needed and would also fund a program already in place that offers abstinence education for singles as well as parenting skills. Opponents pointed out that the state had no business intruding into private lives and that other worthy programs intended to fight poverty, such as job training, would be shortchanged.

More dubious proposals are lurking in the wings, such as a potential two-year wait for a no-fault divorce or taking a 10-hour crisis course to qualify for the 60-day waiting period. These are issues that not many Texas legislators will be able to discuss with a straight face, given that multiple divorces are not unheard of at the Capitol.

Meanwhile, Chisum has been trying to move yet another ill-conceived, discriminatory bill, this one to mandate teaching the Bible in all Texas high schools. The bill is in the House Public Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. The chances of the Bible bill getting out of that committee? Says Eissler, who favors the bill, "It doesn't have a prayer." Amen to that.

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