Bad Day for the Religious Right in Texas

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Texas voters on Tuesday dealt two big blows to the religious right in Republican nomination battles for the State Board of Education and the state Supreme Court. Perhaps the state board loss stings the most for the religious right, which effectively took control of the important education panel after the 2006 elections — and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that controversial actions by the board’s fringe-right members in recent years angered and mobilized voters in opposition, even in GOP contests this year.

In the contest to replace Cynthia Dunbar in the District 10 state board seat, Georgetown educator Marsha Farney routed Austin attorney Brian Russell. Farney won 62 percent of the vote in the Republican runoff, while Russell netted just 38 percent.

Dunbar recruited Russell as her replacement, and he had the support of a constellation of far-right groups from across the state. One big factor in the result on Tuesday certainly was Farney’s ability to tap her own bank account to heavily outspend Russell. That funding advantage helped Farney tie Russell to Dunbar’s fringe anti-public education views. And Russell, who home-schools his own children, didn’t help his cause when he recently gave his approval to an anti-public schools Internet screed posted by a member of Young Conservatives of Texas.

How significant is Farney’s victory? At first glance, Russell’s defeat coupled with Don McLeroy‘s loss in the March 2 Republican primary would appear to drop the state board’s far-right faction from seven to just five members. Moreover, San Antonio Democrat Rick Agosto, who had often voted with the far-right faction over the past three years, is not seeking re-election this year. And Dallas Republican Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, a swing vote who has sometimes sided with the faction (more recently in the social studies debate but not on science last year), lost her bid for re-election on March 2. Clearly, a significant number of voters are sending a message at the polls this year: stop politicizing the education of Texas schoolchildren with creationist attacks on science and efforts to rewrite history to conform to board members’ personal and ideological agendas.

But Farney’s campaign hardly made her look like a moderate. She trumpeted her anti-abortion views as well as her opposition to same-sex marriage — two issues that have nothing to do with the state board. Of course, the religious right took control of the state board over the years by running vicious election campaigns attacking opponents for allegedly wanting to teach students about masturbation and gay sex, distribute condoms and other contraception to kids, promote abortion and other nonsense. So perhaps Farney’s strategy was to inoculate herself against similar attacks and reassure social conservatives that she was a safe vote. In any case, it’s hard to know at this point whether she will align with the board’s far-right faction.

Of course, Farney still has to face Democrat Judy Jennings, an Austin education consultant, in the November general election. Other general election contests could also affect the religious right’s influence on the board. In the District 5 race, Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, a professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, is challenging incumbent Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, one of the board’s far-right members. In West Texas, District 1 incumbent René Nuñez, D-El Paso, faces Republican and fellow El Pasoan Carlos “Charlie” Garza. It’s unclear yet whether Garza will align himself with the board’s far-right faction.

The other big election defeat for the religious right yesterday was Rick Green‘s loss in the Republican runoff for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court. Green, who works with David Barton as a motivational speaker for WallBuilders — a far-right organization that argues separation of church and state is a “myth” — narrowly lost to state district Judge Debra Lehrmann 48%-52%.

Like Farney, Lehrmann hardly portrayed herself as a moderate. But Green’s primary (and perhaps only) support came from religious-right groups across Texas. It seems a majority of Republican voters, however, decided he was too inexperienced — or that his political views were too extreme — to sit on the high court.

24 Responses to “Bad Day for the Religious Right in Texas”

  1. James F Says:

    Garza has been endorsed by the creationist group Texans for Better Science Education, as were Russell, Don McLeroy, Randy Rives, Ken Mercer, and Joanie Muenzler. I think it’s a safe bet he’d be in lock-step with the far right.

    Note that they didn’t endorse Farney or George Clayton, and I hope that means they don’t feel beholden to their side. Bottom line, someone hand-picked by Cynthia Dunbar and supported by Don McLeroy and David Bradley had to be stopped. I’ll be watching the developments in District 10 with interest.

  2. James F Says:

    Another tidbit: H-E-B president and CEO Charles Butt supported Farney late in the campaign. Butt had also supported Tim Tuggey against Ken Mercer. Perhaps this is evidence that the business wing of the GOP is tired of the theocratic wing?

  3. Lorenzo Sadun Says:

    Russell’s overwhelming loss in SBOE10 (he didn’t carry a single county) was gratifying. It also means a much tougher November race for Judy Jennings. Not only will it be harder to tie Farney to the current loonies on the SBOE, but Farney is likely to pump hundreds of thousands of her own dollars into the general election, just as she did in the primary. But despite those tactical considerations, I’m very glad that (relatively) mainstream Republicans from Austin to Sugar Land stood up to reclaim their party from the religious right.

    But only when it comes to education, and only when the alternative is also very conservative. The Supreme Court results are SCARY. Rick Green had essentially no qualifications for the job, he was opposed by most of the GOP establishment, he had little money compared to Lehrmann, and he STILL almost won. He carried Fort Bend and Bastrop Counties, where Russell was trounced. In other words, a LOT of people voted for both Farney and Green.

    What that means looking forwards is anybody’s guess.

  4. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    Separation of “church and state” is a “myth.” The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. The words in the Constitution are “religious” and “religion.” It is a “religious” test which shall not be required, not just a church test. It is “religion” which shall not be established by law or Congress, the whole subject “thereof,” not just a church.

    Use the wording of the Constitution and everyone will have a better understanding of what the Constitution commands in respect to religion.

    Gene Garman, M.Div.
    Author, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer
    Pittsburg, KS

  5. Slade Foster Says:

    Good luck with that argument at the Supreme Court Gene (I take that back – wait a few months and then try it). 😉

    Founding Father hero worship aside, are you seriously proposing that separation of church and state is a ‘bad idea’?

    Or are you simply being a Constitutional pedant for the sake of this argument?

    Your Masters in Divinity has aroused my suspicion…

  6. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    It is the words in the Constitution upon which the Supreme Court makes decisions because its words are the supreme law of the land. The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. The words “religious” and “religion” are, therefore, anyone who takes a “religion” issue before any court and changes the wording to something other than the all inclusive word “religion,” that case is limited and weakened. It is the entire subject of “religion” which shall not be established in the USA, not just a church. It is way past time for supporters of separation to stop using misleading terms and use the wording of the Constitution.

    “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history,” James Madison, Father of the Constitution, William and Mary Quarterly, 3:555.

  7. Cytocop Says:

    But it’s just fine and dandy that our tax dollars are channeled to religious institutions via the Office of Faith-Based Partnerships, thus unconstitutionally “establishing religion.” I am the only one here who ever brings this up. That their tax dollars are sent to religious institutions with no requirement to account for how those dollars are used, is A-OK with everyone here, apparently.

  8. lucky Says:

    @Gene Garman, Baylor ’62 (M Div, not JD): As a good ol’ Baptist from Baylor, do you reject the doctrine of the Trinity and consider it a “myth”? After all, the word “trinity” is not once mentioned in either the New or Old Testament. Or do you find the doctrine congruent with the god of the Bible despite it’s never mentioned specifically?

    The doctrine of separation of church and state is very clearly at the heart of the Constitution. From the enumerated text of the last clause of Section VI banning religious tests for office of state or federal government (all three branches) to the First Amendment and by way of the Federalist Papers, you have about as much ground to claim church-state separation is a “myth” as you’d most likely say Jehovah’s Witnesses and other non-trinitarians have against the Trinity.
    http://www.bjconline.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=138&Itemid=129

    Madison wrote against factionalism in Federalist #10 with the prescience to see that one day “A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.” The Religious Right have degenerated into such a sect, and it’s the solemn duty of others to assure liberty prevails over the dangers of a fundamentalist theocracy so that church and state remain separate for the benefit of both church and state.

  9. Doug Indeap Says:

    Gene,

    As you well know, the phrase “separation of church and state” has long been used as shorthand for the principles embodied in the First Amendment and no religious test clause. That you choose to use the terms “church” and “religion” differently (even if perhaps more precisely) and thus don’t like the shorthand label hardly renders those principles a “myth.”

  10. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution and do not accurately express the constitutional principle of separation which the Constitution does address very specifically: the word in the Constitution is “religion,” not church. The separation which the Constitution commands is between “religion” and Congress, First Amendment, and, via the Fourteenth Amendment, between religion and government at every level. Does “religion” include church, of course, and it includes everything related to “religion,” including the use of tax money for parochial schools or the presidential Office of Faith Based Partnerships. Maybe the book The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer, available from Amazon.com, is a text book which would be of value to those who need the constitutional principle stated more thoroughly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM .

  11. Ben Says:

    If I’ve understood Gene correctly in all of his postings, he doesn’t reject the concept of separation of church and state, he rejects those words in describing the concept. He says it should be “religion and state,” and he does support the concept of separation of religion and state. Do I have it right, Gene? If I do, you should make that last part clear.

  12. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    How many times have I asserted the constitutional principle of “separation between Religion and Government,” James Madison, W&MQ 3:555, and said those words include everything relating to “religion”? The Founding Fathers and the First Congress understood the English language, wrote exactly what they meant, and used the word “religion,” not church. The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution, and the continued use of “church and state,” as if those words are in the Constitution, revises and distorts what the Constitution says.

    How many times do I have to repeat the above? If anyone at TFN can find the words “church and state” in the Constitution, please, show me the words. They are not in the Constitution. Is there something difficult to comprehend about what I just said?

    I agree with James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” “Strongly guarded … is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States,” W&MQ 3:555. The constitutional word “religion” covers everything related to religion, whatever is related to religion. The Founding Fathers and the First Congress understood the English language and wrote exactly what they meant. Does the word “religion” include church? Of course, as well as parochial schools, under “God” in the pledge, etc., etc., etc.

    I majored in religion and history, and I wrote the book on this subject: The Religion Commandments in the Constitution. Let me know, Ben, if I have to repeat this again. Thanks.

    Gene Garman, M.Div.

  13. Robert Bohmfalk Says:

    If the saying is true that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, then maybe the Republicans who spent over $100,000 trying to defeat Mercer may now give financial support to Rebecca Bell-Metereau Those big names (mostly from San Antonio) were Red McCombs, H.E. Butt, Zackery, and Frost.

  14. Ben Says:

    Gene, I was using a gentle tone for those folks who haven’t read your 47 other postings repeating the exact same thing. We get it, okay? But if you think people are going to stop using the words “church and state” simply to please you, you’re dreaming. In fact, at this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if people were going out of their way to say “church and state” simply to annoy you.

  15. Charles Says:

    Ben. I don’t know why they keep calling it Tylenol. It’s really just the chemical Acetaminophen (CAS Number 103-90-2). Don’t you think all of our headaches would go away much quicker if we would just admit its a chemical and start calling it by it chemical name.

    I have another question on my mind. I am going to write to Rob Boston at Americans United and find out why Gene no longer works there. It is no doubt an interesting story.

  16. Lorenzo Sadun Says:

    To Gene Garman:

    The words “separation of church and state” are not in the Constitution. Neither are “separation of powers” or “checks and balances”. Yet all three are well-established constitutional principles. The actual phrase “separation of church and state” is from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, where he described the meaning of the First Amendment:

    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

  17. JL Dallas Says:

    Just remember, Garman’s book is self-published, from on-demand self publisher, BookSurge and his M. Div. from a Southern Baptist Seminary that lets in just about any male Souther Baptist with a Bachelors and breath. And showing up and towing the party line pretty much gets you that precious M. Div.

    (Don’t you just hate it when people flash their irrelevant to the subject at hand degrees around.)

  18. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    The word in the Constitution is “religious” and “religion.” The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. I have challenged you to show me otherwise. You have done so because you cannot do so. Lots of folks have used the words, “church and state,” including Thomas Jefferson, who had nothing to do with writing the Constitution, but those words are not in the Constitution, and it is the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land and contains the only words upon which the government of the USA is founded and which have legal standing in a court of law. As for my scholastic education at Baylor University and a Southern Baptist Seminary, plus one year of law school, after which I served on the staff of Americans United, I have always done my own work. Therefore, with that background, I am still challenging TFN and any of you on this blog to show me the words “church and state” in the Constitution. Use of those words distort what the Constitution says. The Constitution’s commandments are about “religion,” the whole subject thereof. For example, a court recently ruled the national day of “prayer” unconstitutional. Yet the word “prayer” is not in the Constitution. It does not have to be because “religion” includes “prayer.” That is, “prayer” is not to be established by law or government at any level because it is about “religion,” and “religion” is not to be established by government. Easily published through Amazon, my book, in my opinion, the most clearly stated book ever written on the subject of “religion” in the Constitution. “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3:555, boot up “Detached Memoranda” on the internet, as well as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb7SbUWw9dM .

  19. abb3w Says:

    I’ll also note again Farney appears to be sufficiently anti-Evolution that I would term her at least “Silly Party”, and expect her to prove more extreme than that if given opportunity. Here’s hoping Judy Jennings can match Farney’s immense pocketbook.

    As to the hijacked discussion….

    No, the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the constitution. Yes, a concept associated with the phrase does.

    There are other phrasings that might be more precise, such as “separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters”; I personally am fond of using “antiestablishmentarian requirement” with respect to the First Amendment. However, hippomonstrosesquipedalian vocabulary means fewer people have a grasp on the concept, and make it harder to inculcate during elementary education. Thus, “ecclesiastical” is shortened to “church” and “civil” replaced with “state”. While the phrase “separation of church and state” is not perfectly accurate, saying “separation of church in state is not in the constitution” by contrast is less so – since the antiestablishmentarian requirement may be characterized as an instance of such separation, and is part of the First Amendment.

    It’s also inaccurate to say that Jefferson had “nothing” to do with writing the Constitution. James Madison is usually identified as the most important figure (both for the Constitution and Bill of Rights), and Jefferson was a neighbor, frequent correspondent, and mentor to Madison. While Jefferson was not a direct participant in the process (in France as Ambassador at the time), he was influential beforehand to the shaping of Madison’s mode of thought, and influenced himself in turn.

  20. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    It is the words of the Constitution which have legal standing before the Court, regardless of what anyone says. Thomas Jefferson was in France from 1784 to 1789, was not at the secret constitutional convention in 1787, and had no more influence upon the words of the Constitution than any other famous American of his day. It is the words which were chosen by the delegates to the Convention and were ratified by the states which are the words of the supreme law of the land. It is a “religious” test which shall not be required and it is the whole subject of “religion” which shall not be established by law, not just any understanding which someone may want to make the Constitution say. Words mean things and the words of the Constitution are not subject to revision by any anyone. Get the words of the Constitution correct and you and everyone else will have a better understanding of what it says. Of course, millions of people believe the Constitution is talking about a state church. Well, it is about time someone stood up to say, that understanding is not what the Constitution says. The correct understanding of what the Constitution says in its religion commandments is to accept the words as approved by the Founding Fathers. The word in the Constitution is “religion,” not church.

  21. abb3w Says:

    Gene Garman: Thomas Jefferson was in France from 1784 to 1789, was not at the secret constitutional convention in 1787,

    True; and I noted this.

    Gene Garman: and had no more influence upon the words of the Constitution than any other famous American of his day.

    Incorrect. As I noted, he was one of the primary influences for the Constitution’s primary shaper, James Madison; a point you neglected to address in the least.

    Gene Garman: Words mean things and the words of the Constitution are not subject to revision by any anyone.

    If you’re interested in precisely presenting those words, shouldn’t you note Article V specifically sets out who may revise the words and how?

    Gene Garman: The correct understanding of what the Constitution says in its religion commandments is to accept the words as approved by the Founding Fathers. The word in the Constitution is “religion,” not church.

    And spreading a wider and more exact understanding is a modestly fine ambition. However, your phrasing Separation of “church and state” is a “myth” appears more likely to convey the idea that there is also no separation between state and religion, and less likely to convey the idea that the legal separation is from “religion” rather than “church”. I would suggest the word “misnomer” might be more accurate (and less a misnomer) than “myth”, and adequate to your purpose.

  22. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    It is a myth that the words “church and state” are in the Constitution. The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. The Constitutional word is “religion.” It is the whole subject of “religion,” not just a church which is not to be established by law or government in the USA. Thomas Jefferson was in France from 1784 to 1789 and was nowhere near the secret 1787 Constitutional Convention. The “Founding Fathers” are the men who did attend that Convention at some point (see Webster’s Dictionary). It is way past time for TFN to educate the public in terms of the Constitution’s words and discourage the misleading terminology which has too many Americans believing it is only a state church which is not to be established by law or Congress or government at any level. To the contrary, it is the whole subject of “religion” which shall not be established by law, by Congress, or by the Texas School Board of Education.

  23. abb3w Says:

    Gene Garman: It is a myth that the words “church and state” are in the Constitution.

    Zut alors, I’ve met chat-bots that seemed smarter.

    Your revised phrasing still appears more likely to convey the idea that there is also no separation between state and religion, and less likely to convey the idea that the legal separation is from “religion” rather than “church”.

  24. Gene Garman, Baylor '62 Says:

    The separation commanded in Article Six and the First Amendment (applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment) is between religion, the whole subject thereof, and government at every level. If I must repeat, does “religion” include “church”? Of course, as well as every other understanding of what is included in “religion.” And when you debate a constitutional issue or take an issue before the court, it is the wording of the Constitution which is valid, not some concept which misstates what the Constitution says.

    It has long been the argument of the “religious right” that the Constitution merely prohibits establishment of a state church or a “national religion,” as Justice Rehnquist argued in Wallace v. Jaffree. The First Amendment’s wording does not include “national” or “church.” Justice Rehnquist and the “religious right” are wrong. The Constitution separates “religion and government” (James Madison) at every level. Have you read James Madison’s “Detached Memoranda,” c.1817? Look it up on the internet. Have you read Church, State, and Freedom by Leo Pfeffer? The Establishment Clause by Leonard W. Levy, Praise the Lord for Tax Exemption by Martin A. Larson. If want to learn about separation, read them. My book is also available.

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