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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

As Texas State Officials Push Religious Legislation, Small Texas City Launches Push for Prayer in Schools

"I don't think church and state need to be separated," Brazoria's mayor tells JewsOnFirst.org.

by JewsOnFirst.org, April 17, 2007

This report updates last week's report on legislation mandating a Bible studies elective in Texas public schools, which you can find here. Links to documents and articles cited in this report immediately follow it.

Amid a surge efforts by elected officials in Texas to legislate religious (read fundamentalist Christian) measures, the small city of Brazoria is organizing Texas cities to reinstitute prayer in the schools.

On the state level, committee hearings on legislation mandating a Bible studies elective in Texas public schools (on which we reported last week), resumed on April 12th to hear testimony from Jewish witnesses who were unable to testify at a hearing scheduled during Passover. You can read excerpts of their testimony in the sidebar accompanying this report.

You'll find links to the minutes and witness list here. You can watch a video recording of the hearing here. Details about the bill, HB 1287, are here.

   Opposing HB 1287   

On April 12th the Texas House Committee on Public Education reopened hearings on HB 1287, which mandates elective Bible studies courses in the state's public schools. We have transcribed a bit of the testimony from the video of the hearing, which you can find here.

Jan Soifer, Chair of Community Relations Council, Jewish Community Association of Austin: "We oppose Bill 1287 bill. We have no problem teaching about religion. We are advocates for religion, but we believe that religious communities such as our thrive because, as a minority, we have constitutional protections for religion. We have no problem teaching comparative religion. That, we believe, creates greater awareness. But Bible is another matter. It immediately asks the question: whose Bible?...

"Again we have no problem teaching about religion but think this demands teacher training which is not included in this bill."

Paul Colbert, testifying on behalf of the Southwestern Region of the Anti-Defamation League: "I'll echo what Jan Soifer said in favor of spreading religious knowledge, especially beyond the Judeo-Christian world, about all religions, comparative religions. Our lack of understanding of the Judeo-Christian world is a problem. We need to understand other religious heritages of other cultures, especially in our global economy. This bill is too narrowly drawn, far too narrowly drawn for our real needs.

"This bill impermissibly tangles religious instruction [and]... forbids us from having any of the safeguards. A Texas senator last week didn't participate in a prayer because it conflicted with his beliefs. Imagine a teacher or student who might be faced with a similar situation...

"We are ending up wasting tax dollars because of the suits that will be engendered... "We are creating unfunded mandates and we for sure will not have properly trained teachers."

The education committee did not vote to send the bill to the floor. In fact, a Houston Post editorial quoted the committee chair saying that the bill "didn't have a prayer" of getting out of his committee.

Turning back the clock
The editorial reproached the bill's author, Rep. Warren Chisum, for legislation diminishing church-state separation. Chisum got the paper's attention with his sponsorship of a bill that would turn back the clock on no-fault divorce.

In February Chisum circulated a memo to all his colleagues condemning evolution as a long-secret Jewish religious text.

Chisum is co-author of a bill (HB 3678) that purports to ensure students' religious expression at public schools. The bill sets up a "limited public forum" for students to express religious viewpoints. Texas Governor Rick Perry held a news conference endorsing the bill and a House committee passed it unanimously last Thursday.

Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley
Meanwhile, the Brazoria City Council has passed a resolution calling for a return of organized prayer to public schools. Brazoria is a small city south of Houston.

In a telephone interview today, Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley said the council passed the resolution because "morality has been dropping" and "we wanted to show support for prayer. It's so difficult to raise children now."

Corley said that Brazoria has emailed the non-binding resolution to every city government in Texas in the hopes that they will pass it too. He said the city has already had calls of support from "a lot of church groups."

He acknowledged that calls for reinstituting school prayer are associated with religious right organizations, but said that he is "open-minded." He pointed to a rotation of clergy he's set up with the local Interministerial Alliance so area clergy take turns saying the opening prayer at City Council meetings. "Nobody has ever objected," he said.

Founded on a belief in Jesus Christ
Corley waved off questions about school prayer being at odds with the First Amendment. "I personally don't think church and state need to be separated," he said. He also said that "our forefathers founded this country on a belief in Jesus Christ."

Asked how mandatory school prayers would be organized so that Jewish children and other religious minorities did not feel excluded, Corley offered several suggestions, such as "open prayer" and teachers taking turns leading prayers.

He ruled out silent prayer, because he says too many people spend the time chatting. Finally he said, "It's going to be difficult at first, but I know we can find a way."

Corley said the prayer campaign is an outgrowth of an unsuccessful (but widely reported) effort earlier this year to ban the use of the "N-word" in town. The word ban was aimed at countering the influence of rap music on young people.

Rather a Jewish prayer
"I would rather them listen to a Jewish prayer than to some of this rap music with its vulgarity," Corley said.

Corley expressed hope that Brazoria's campaign to reinstitute school prayer will give young people an alternative to rap and hip hop culture. Noting that some parents have no involvement with a church, he said school prayer would be "the only opportunity [their children] have. This might bring them closer to religion."



Brazoria Council's school prayer resolution

Brazoria City Council backs prayer in schools

Eric Hanson, The Houston Chronicle, April 14, 2007

The Brazoria City Council unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution calling for prayer to be a part of public schools and urging other Texas cities to pass similar measures.

"I feel the need (for prayer) is greater now than ever before. It is something I want to be involved in," Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley said Friday. "My goal is to just bring God back into the lives of these kids through our school system." Continue. .

Town votes to bring prayer back to schools

By Rucks Russell, 11 News (KHOU-TV, Houston), April 12, 2007

Brazoria is bending no more when it comes to prayer in schools. The city council adopted a resolution the week that asks for public schools to reinstate prayer in the classroom.

“I want prayer in all the schools throughout the United States of America,” said Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley. “I think there is a greater majority of people who want prayer in our schools.” Continued on the 11 News website, where you can also, at the moment, find a link to the video report.

You can go straight to the video by clicking here.

Brazoria pushing school prayer

Desiree Evans, The Facts (Brazoria County, Texas), April 13, 2007

Brazoria -- The city already made national headlines this year by trying to stop people from saying an offensive word. Now, instead of trying to outlaw a word, city officials want "the word" spread through public schools.

City Council unanimously passed a resolution urging organized prayer be reinstated in public schools and is hoping other governments statewide follow Brazoria’s lead.

"With all of the problems kids face today in society, it is very important that God be brought back into our school systems," Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley said Thursday. Continue.

Religious expression in schools legislation

Texas Lawmakers Approve Students Rights Bill

Focus on the Family, June 4, 2007

The Texas Legislature voted last week to protect the right of students to talk openly about their faith at school-sponsored events, The Austin American-Statesman reported. The Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act, sponsored by Republican Rep. Charlie Howard, creates a model for schools that allows such speech in "limited public forums." Kelly Coghlan, an attorney who helped write the measure, said it provides much-needed guidelines for school officials who often quash protected religious speech for fear of lawsuits. "School districts want to do the right thing - they just want to know what it is," he said in a statement. "What the bill does is make our public schools friendly to expression that should never have been discriminated against in the first place." Continue.

Governor supports bill specifying free religious expression

Kelley Shannon, Associated Press, The Houston Chronicle, April 10, 2007

Austin -- Gov. Rick Perry joined some fellow Capitol Republicans and social conservatives Tuesday to urge passage of legislation he says will clarify for Texas schools that they may allow religious freedom on campus.

A bill by Rep. Charlie Howard, a Sugar Land Republican, will be considered in a legislative committee this week. The measure will help schools feel comfortable in allowing religious speech permitted under the First Amendment without the worry that they will be sued, Howard said.

"The waters have become very muddy," he said. Continue.

Texas lawmaker pushes student religious liberty bill

By Jim Brown, OneNewsNow.com, March 30, 2007

A bill introduced in the Texas Legislature seeks to clear up "growing confusion" about religious expression in the state's public schools. Republican Representative Charlie Howard says he's fed up with the increasing incidence of schools censoring the religious speech of students, so he has introduced the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act. Continue.

Rep. Charlie Howard Files School Children's Religious Liberty Bill

News Release, Rep. Charlie Howard, March 13, 2007

(Austin) – In response to the growing confusion about religious expression in Texas public schools, Rep. Charlie Howard of Fort Bend Friday introduced a bill that outlines the extensive liberties students are guaranteed and the protection school officials receive when recognizing these liberties. The bill lays to rest many myths that have led to the unconstitutional suppression of individual speech in Texas schools.

The Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act (HB3678)(http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=80R&Bill=HB3678) codifies the many constitutional ways a student, or groups of students, may express their faith at school and at school-sponsored events. HB3678 also outlines what activities would land a school in constitutional hot water.

“This bill leaves no doubt that individual religious expression is permissible in schools in a wide range of contexts,” said Rep. Howard. “It is a win-win for students and school officials alike, both of whom are now uncertain how to navigate what has become muddied, constitutional waters.”

HB3678 makes clear that unconstitutional censorship of students’ individual religious expression will not be allowed in Texas public schools. The bill also offers clarity for teachers and administrators who have been confused about what religious expression is permitted in schools. Continue.

Help Protect Texas Students' Religious Liberties
Contact Your State Senator and Representative Today!

Action alert from American Family Association, found April 16, 2007

The Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act (HB 3678), has been introduced in Texas to protect children’s religious liberties in public schools. A few examples of unconstitutional censorship of school children in Texas include: Reprimands for talking about Jesus during Easter; a ban on children wishing deployed troops a “Merry Christmas;” children forbidden from using religious messages on gifts or cards including references to St. Valentine’s Day; children forbidden from bringing Christmas items to a school’s “Winter Party” despite the acknowledgment of other faiths during the season; children threatened by Superintendent that if they prayed they would be "disciplined the same as if they had cursed;" teacher trashing two Bibles belonging to students, taking the students to the principal's office and threatening to call Child Protective Services on the parents for letting their children bring Bibles to school. Continue.

Recent reports on the Bible elective legislation (HB 1287)

Texas Freedom Network Applauds House Committee Action on Bible Class Bill
Public Education Committee Adds Responsible Safeguards to H.B. 1287 to Protect Religious Freedom and School Districts from Legal Jeopardy

News Release, Texas Freedom Network, April 19, 2007

The Texas Freedom Network today applauded the work of the House Public Education Committee, which added key safeguards to a bill calling for Bible classes in Texas public high schools.

"These committee members clearly understood that families and churches, not the government, should teach our children what to believe about the Bible," TFN President Kathy Miller said. "They voted to give the Bible the respect it deserves and we trust that the full House will show the same care and diligence when it takes up the bill." Continue

Bible elective class bill stirs religious debate
Faith leaders want to tread cautiously on sacred text classes.

Eileen E. Flynn, Austin American-Statesman, April 12, 2007

A bill that would require Texas schools to offer elective classes based on the Bible has sparked a lot of questions among religious leaders, who hope to get answers today when the bill is discussed in a public hearing.

House Bill 1287, written by Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, would give students the option of studying the literature and history of the Old Testament and New Testament eras if at least 15 students in a high school want to take the class.

Chisum has said the class would explore the scriptures' influence on the arts, literature and history and would not be a vehicle for religious indoctrination. About two dozen of the state's 1,040 school districts now have similar classes, and offering the classes is optional. Continue.

Texas may require schools to carry elective on Bible
Legislation calls for an 'objective and nondevotional' course.

Lianne Hart, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2007

Houston -- The Lone Star State could become the first in the nation to require all public high schools to offer an elective course on the Bible.

Hearings continued in the Legislature last week on a bill that calls for school districts in Texas to offer a class on "the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments eras" if at least 15 students sign up.

The bill was written by state Rep. Warren Chisum, a West Texas Republican who teaches Sunday school at a Baptist church. He said the course would not treat the Bible as a "worship document" but would promote religious and cultural literacy by "educating our students academically and not devotionally." Continue.

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. Continue.

Sen. Patrick walks out on religious tolerance
I would have thought that having a minority-religion-led prayer in the Senate would open people's minds.

Opinion article, Brenda Tso, The Daily Texan (University of Texas, Austin), April 6, 2007 , April 6, 2007

The sky is falling on the Texas Legislature.

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate came into session with an Islamic prayer. Imam Yusuf Kavacki offered blessings from the Koran on the Senate floor. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, became so irate that he walked out.

Sen. Kay Shapiro, R-Plano, the state's senior Jewish Senator, had granted the prayer request from the Freedom and Justice Foundation.

In a press release, Sen. Shapiro stated that "Our country prides itself on freedoms, the most relevant today is freedom of religion. In our blessed country, everyone is free to pray according to their religion, and allowing a Muslim to express his freedom demonstrates what we all have in common in the United States." Continue.

Chuck Norris Helps the NCBCPS Spread David Barton's Lies

By Chris Rodda, Talk to Action, April 15, 2007

In an April 9, 2007 article on WorldNetDaily entitled Bringing the Bible Back Into Public Schools, National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) board member and spokesman Chuck Norris regurgitates the following erroneous claim, almost verbatim from the NCBCPS website's "Founding Fathers" page.

A study by the American Political Science Review on the political documents of the founding era, which was from 1760-1805, discovered that 94 percent of the period's documents were based on the Bible, with 34 percent of the contents being direct citations from the Bible. The Scripture was the bedrock and blueprint of our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, academic arenas and heritage until the last quarter of a century.

The study referred to by Norris was conducted by Donald S. Lutz of the University of Houston, whose findings were published in a 1984 article in The American Political Science Review. Misrepresentations of Lutz's study have been around for years, the first appearing in John Eidsmoe's 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution, followed a few years later by the version most often seen today, taken from NCBCPS advisory board member David Barton's book Original Intent. Continue.

Bringing the Bible back into public schools

Chuck Norris, World Net Daily, April 9. 2007

Martial arts star Chuck Norris attacks the Texas Freedom Network and other "liberal" groups that oppose Bible courses:

"Three hundred eighty-two public school districts have voted to implement a course on it.

"Over 1,350 schools in 37 states can now offer it as a textbook.

"Approximately 190,000 students have already been taught from it as a course curriculum.

"I'm talking about the Bible in public school. It's no joke! And I want to help you get a course on it offered in your school district, too." Continue

Chisum sponsors legislation restricting divorce

Marriage, divorce subject of conservatives' proposals

Kelley Shannon, Associated Press, The Dallas Morning News, April 14, 2007

Deep in the heart of Texas, some state legislators are trying to lay down the law about affairs of the heart.

Proposals that would encourage couples to undergo premarital education, extend the waiting period for a divorce and provide the option of creating a "covenant marriage" are up for consideration at the Capitol.

Social conservatives pushing the measures say they want everyone who enters marriage -- or who tries to get out of it -- to think about the seriousness the union, especially for the sake of children who could grow up impoverished because of divorce. Continue.

Pampa House member pushes three pro-marriage bills
One bill has already lost much of its bite in floor debate

W. Gardner Selby, The Austin American-Statesman, April 14, 2007

A Panhandle Republican seeking to discourage hasty marriages and quick divorces said he remains hopeful of sending Gov. Rick Perry pro-marriage legislation despite a setback.

"This needs to be a nonpartisan issue," said Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, who plans to mark his 50th wedding anniversary in October. "This is about what's good for Texas. Deep down, people don't want to be a part of separating families." Continue.


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