Archive for the ‘church and state’ Category

From the Hate Mail Bag

March 23, 2012

A new Christian-themed specialty license plate, approved by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board last December, went on sale this week. Here’s what we told Fox News about our concerns:

“I think you want to be very careful when you give government the authority to favor a particular religion in an official way such as this,” Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, told

“That’s what bumper stickers are for,” Quinn said of religious decorations on vehicles. “We support religious freedom for everybody. The question is: Do you need government approval for that? We don’t want government having that authority.”

The group had previously blasted the plate as “disrespectful,” saying in a December press release on its website that “It’s become pretty clear that our governor [Rick Perry] is dismissive of religious beliefs other than his own, and now his governmental appointees have voted to send a message that Texas is unwelcoming to the religious faiths of some of its citizens.”

Our hate mail typically spikes when we’re quoted by Fox. (Go figure.) In any case, the writer of the following email apparently checked out our website, including the section on our Texas Faith Network. He doesn’t like us:

Saw your site and the proclamation of “progressive clergy”?

“Progressive clergy” is just another way to say sell out clergy.

No Christian, at least a true Christian, is tolerant or accepting of other religions.

In fact, God’s Holy Word the Bible tells Christians to flee evil ….. not to even talk of the evil that they do.

Unlike your ““progressive clergy” proclaims, we are not all the children of God and we do not serve the same god.

True Christians are the only children of God and true Christians serve the one and only true God …. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Your “progressive clergy” are the false prophets that the Bible teaches us about. The purveyors of false doctrine ……. the servants of Satan and his minion.

This is a nation based upon Christians beliefs.

To God be the glory and may His judgment fall upon this nation that it, through your evil kind and your “progressive clergy” across this nation, has called upon it.

As the Bible says, the rain falls on the heads of the just and unjust …….. we, the true Christians, the born again Christians, the true children of God will bear it for His Name’s sake.


‘The Lord Is Not on Trial Here Today’

March 12, 2012

On Saturday our Houston friends from Americans United for Separation of Church and State are screening an award-winning documentary about a landmark First Amendment case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948. The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today tells the compelling personal story of the late Vashti McCollum and how her efforts to protect her 10-year-old son led to one of the nation’s most important court cases protecting separation of church and state in public schools.

Jim McCollum will be a special guest at the screening of the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning documentary. The event is at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, at the Rice Media Center. The media center is on the south side of the Rice University campus in Houston. Admission is free.

The Boniuk Center for the Study of Religious Tolerance at Rice University and Rice Cinema are co-sponsoring the screening.

Click here for a flier with more information on the Houston event. You can read more about the documentary itself here.

Rick Perry’s War on Religious Freedom

December 12, 2011

Rick Perry is so determined to pander to religious-right voters in the Republican presidential primaries that he wants to gut the First Amendment, one of the most important protections for religious freedom in America. See the partial transcript below from Gov. Perry’s interview on Fox News Sunday this past weekend.

Let’s be clear: Gov. Perry is simply not telling the truth when he suggests that children can’t “pray in school any time that they would like.” They can and many do. What the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars is public schools sponsoring or encouraging prayer. That prohibition protects the right of families and congregations to direct the religious education of their children. It also protects the right of students to pray their own prayers based on their own religious beliefs, not the religious beliefs of the teacher or school administrators. In short, public schools may not decide whose religious beliefs to favor or disfavor.

But Gov. Perry wants a constitutional amendment sweeping away that fundamental protection. By arguing to overturn the 1962 Supreme Court decision barring school-sponsored (read: government-approved) prayer, he’s looking to gut the First Amendment. And that would threaten religious freedom for all Americans.

From the Fox News Sunday program:


Ask Yourself This

December 9, 2011

As we reported yesterday, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board voted to approve the “Calvary Hill” specialty license plate, which includes the words “One State Under God” and three crosses on a hill:

Just a little thought experiment — do you think the DMV board’s vote would have gone the same way if the proposed design looked like this:

Or this:

Or this:

I’m skeptical.

And I’m even more skeptical that the lobbyist for Focus on the Family-Texas would be in the papers arguing that the state should authorize those plates:

“Private speech, protected by the First Amendment, should not be subjected to second-class treatment. Anyone who opposed this plate either doesn’t know the law or has no respect for the First Amendment.”

But if this really is about the First Amendment, what’s the difference?

Board OKs Christian-Themed License Plate

December 8, 2011

The Texas Freedom Network just sent out the following press release:


DMV Board Vote Diminishes Religious Liberty in Texas

Thursday’s approval by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board of a Christian-themed specialty license plate is disrespectful of Christianity and the religious freedom of people of all faiths, spokespersons for the state’s leading religious liberties watchdog said today.

“It’s become pretty clear that our governor is dismissive of religious beliefs other than his own, and now his governmental appointees have voted to send a message that Texas is unwelcoming to the religious faiths of some of its citizens,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said. “The truth is that giving government the power to play favorites with faith ultimately diminishes religious freedom for everyone.”

The DMV board approved the “Calvary Hill” specialty license plate design on a 4-3 vote. Proceeds from the government-approved design, which includes the words “One State Under God” and three crosses on a hill, will benefit a Christian youth outreach program. Christians themselves should be concerned by the board’s approval of the license plate design, said the Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune, a TFN board member and pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin.

“I’m disappointed to see the state endorse a particular faith, even if it’s mine, and to see Christians trivialize our faith into slogans and symbols on the back of a bumper,” Bethune said.

The design’s approval by board members appointed by Gov Perry is just the latest disappointment in a challenging year for supporters of religious liberty, Miller said. In August, for example, Gov. Perry hosted a Christians-only prayer event in Houston organized by an anti-gay hate group. The governor has also made appeals specifically to Christians a central strategy of his presidential campaign. Just yesterday, for example, a new Perry campaign ad cited the governor’s Christian faith and charged that President Obama is engaged in a “war on religion” and that liberals are engaged in “attacks on our religious heritage.” The ad suggests that policies promoted by the Obama administration, particularly ending the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy against gays in the military, are anti-Christian.

Deconstructing David Barton

May 23, 2011

David Barton‘s much talked about appearance on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart is not going away, with lots of keystrokes and time being devoted to analyzing the faux historian’s comments and assertions.

One of those doing some analyzing is Prof. John Fea.

Prof. Fea’s analysis is particularly interesting because of his own résumé. Fea is a historian who teaches at a Christian institution — Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He is the kind of guy Barton might want analyzing his historical “facts,” someone who might be more likely to be receptive to Barton’s views and his propensity to peddle a sectarian slant on history. That is, if only Fea were a dishonest historian. Except, the Messiah College professor is not.

In a seven-part series, Fea methodically takes apart Barton’s “Daily Show” appearance.

Apologists for Barton often try to discredit his critics by claiming they’re just a bunch of godless interest groups or elitist liberal academics. Well, here you go.

Fea’s series on Barton is available on his blog:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

By the way, Prof. Fea has a new book on the topic of religion and America: Was America Founded As a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction.

Bill Analysis: Ten Commandments in Schools

March 11, 2011

Because of the evolving body of case law and complicated constitutional issues surrounding the posting of the Ten Commandments in public spaces, TFN Insider asked one of the nation’s top First Amendment scholars, Steven Green, to take a look at state Rep. Dan Flynn’s problematic legislation promoting the Ten Commandments in Texas schools. Here is Dr. Green’s analysis of House Bill 79 in the Texas Legislature.

Analysis of Texas HB 79
By Dr. Steven K. Green, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University. Dr. Green is the author of several books on the religious liberty provisions of the First Amendment, including most recently The Second Disestablishment: Church and State in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford, 2010).

As currently written, HB 79 would prevent any school district from prohibiting the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments in a prominent location in any public school classroom.

The bill does not state who may post the Ten Commandments in a classroom, but the assumption is that it would be done by a public school employee, as public school classrooms are not public forums and are otherwise unavailable for the posting of items by private individuals. Even if the bill could be interpreted to allow a posting by a student or a non-school person with school permission, that factor would not affect the analysis discussed below. (more…)

Listen Up, Houston

February 19, 2011

Our friends at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University have asked us to extend an invitation to TFN members and supporters in the Houston-area to attend this event on Thursday:

Educating for a “Christian America”?
Bible Courses, Social Studies Standards
and the Texas Controversy

Mark A. Chancey, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Religious Studies,
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences,
Southern Methodist University

James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Thursday, February 24, 2011
6:30 pm
Kelly International Conference Facility
James A. Baker III Hall
Rice University

The event is free and open to the public, but they do ask that you register to reserve your seat beforehand (which you can do by clicking here).

Not only is the topic timely and relevant, we can attest firsthand that you won’t find a finer scholar or better speaker than Dr. Chancey, who has collaborated  with the Texas Freedom Network on two groundbreaking studies evaluating public school Bible courses.

If you have a free evening on Thursday, you owe it to yourself to head over to the campus of Rice University and check it out. (And if you can’t make it, it looks like the Baker Institute will be live-streaming the presentation here.)

The Year in Quotes: Religious Freedom

December 27, 2010

Threats to religious freedom — and the constitutional protections for that freedom — were evident in much of the far right’s political rhetoric in 2010. Some right-wing politicians even sought to turn religion and government into enemies by using faith as a political weapon. You can read more of our review of what the far right had to say in 2010 here and here.

“Our country was founded on religious principles … and our students will know that. . . . I think the [Founding Fathers] fully intended that our government would not separate church and state.”

— Gail Lowe, chair of the Texas State Board of Education, talking about new social studies curriculum standards for public schools, North Texas Daily, September 20, 2010

“The exact phrase ‘separation of church and state’ came out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth. That’s where it comes from. So next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of church and state, ask them why they’re Nazis.”

— Glen Urquhart, Republican congressional candidate from Delaware, Washington Post, April 2010

“WE [sic] elected a house [sic] with Christian, conservative values. We now want a true Christian, conservative running it.”

— John Cook, an elected State Republican Executive Committee member, explaining his opposition to current Texas House of Representatives Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who happens to be Jewish, Texas Observer, November 30, 2010


Va. Baptists Defend Church-State Separation

November 18, 2010

We’re glad to see that many Virginia Baptists remain committed to their denomination’s traditional defense of separation of church and state. Associated Baptist Press reports that messengers to the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) last week “adopted a resolution decrying versions of American history that minimize or deny the role of church-state separation.” From the ABP article:

Virginia Baptists should “regard it as a threat to the flourishing of religious liberty when any version of our nation’s history minimizes or denies the historical basis” of church-state separation, the resolution says. It also says Virginia Baptists should “be diligent in resisting and correcting any such mistaken version of our history.”

Supporters of the resolution expressed concerns about how Texas State Board of Education‘s religious-right bloc rewrote history and other social studies curriculum standards earlier this year. Rob James, a retired religion professor at the University of Richmond who chairs the BGAV’s religious-liberty committee, had this to say:


And So It Begins…

November 9, 2010

Texas lawmakers have begun filing bills for the 82nd Legislative Session, which begins in January. Among the early legislation is House Bill 79 by state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van:

POSTING OF TEN COMMANDMENTS. The board of trustees of an independent school district may not prohibit the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments in a prominent location in a district classroom.

Expect more legislation like this. At a time when the Legislature is faced with a massive budget deficit, some lawmakers simply can’t resist trying to distract voters with divisive and unnecessary “culture war” battles. Indeed, the culture wars to some politicians are like light bulbs to June bugs.

You might recall that Rep. Flynn also spoke before the Texas State Board of Education earlier this year in favor of the board’s politicized rewrite of social studies curriculum standards.

Church, State and Tea

October 30, 2010

Tea party activists across the country have been doing a lot of shouting about what they say is government getting involved in things it shouldn’t. But we’ve seen a number of tea party-backed candidates in this year’s elections, such as Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell of Delaware and Sharron Angle of Nevada, who don’t seem to have a problem with government getting involved in religious matters. In fact, they want to mix government and religion. Think Progress provides another example: Ken Buck, the Republican nominee for the Senate from Colorado. Here’s what Buck had to say at a candidate forum last year:

I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state. It was not written into the Constitution. While we have a Constitution that is very strong in the sense that we are not gonna have a religion that’s sanctioned by the government, it doesn’t mean that we need to have a separation between government and religion. And so that, that concerns me a great deal. So I think there are cultural differences, I think there, we are as strong as we, our culture, our culture gives us our strength, I guess is the best way to put that. And, and I am worried about the fact that we seem to be walking away from culture. And, and one thing that President Obama has done that I would certainly speak about is calling the Christmas tree, which has historically been called a Christmas tree in Washington DC, a holiday tree. It’s just flat wrong in my mind. debunked the claim about President Obama supposedly preferring a “holiday tree” instead of a “Christmas tree.” In any case, Buck’s argument against separation of church and state exposes the far right’s fraudulent rhetoric about “small government” and “religious liberty.” Mixing government and religion would threaten religious freedom in America, which is why the First Amendment — which the Texas Freedom Network strongly defends — forbids government promotion or interference in religion.

Politics and the Pulpit

October 25, 2010

Some good news from a new survey from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press: just 5 percent of people who attend religious services at least once or twice a month say that their clergy or other religious groups have urged them to vote in a particular way.

That survey makes it clear that most religious leaders don’t want their houses of worship dragged into partisan political campaigns. But their resistance helps explain, perhaps, why David Barton and other religious-right leaders are working so hard to persuade pastors to politicize their pulpits and their congregations.

More Separation Denial

October 19, 2010

Christine O’Donnell might be running for a U.S. Senate seat from Delaware, but she would probably feel at home sitting on the Texas State Board of Education. We told you last month that the Republican Senate nominee believes evolution is a “myth.” Now she’s denying — like a number of State Board of Education members in Texas — that the Constitution protects separation of church and state in America.

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” O’Donnell, who is popular among the religious right and tea party folks, asked her Democratic opponent in a debate Tuesday. Members of the audience at the Widener University Law School burst out in laughter. O’Donnell then seemed to express doubt that the First Amendment forbids government establishment of religion. Audio here.

More from the New York Times here.

The Texas State Board of Education last spring rejected a proposed requirement that social studies students learn about the constitutional protection of separation of church and state and the prohibition against government promoting one religion over all others.

Church, State and Cynthia Dunbar

May 27, 2010

In an article on the website of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar is pretending to give history and constitutional lessons about the principle of church-state separation. The article explains that Dunbar’s critics — it focuses largely on the Texas Freedom Network — have been critical about her tasteless attempt to use prayer to score political points at the state board’s meeting last week. As we explained at the time, Dunbar’s prayer to open the meeting came before the board was to decide what, among other things, students would learn about separation of church and state in their social studies classes. Dunbar and other far-right board members don’t accept that separation of church and state is a key constitutional principle.

In the Liberty University article, Dunbar cackles over the fact that the prayer she recited was originally given in 1954 by the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. From the article:

“This is a huge story in that it exposes the bias of the liberal media and organizations that blasted me for saying ‘Christian land governed by Christian principles,’” Dunbar said. “These were not my words, but C.J. Earl Warren’s. TFN [Texas Freedom Network], a horribly liberal organization, tried to save face by saying that I had made a mockery out of religion. I beg to differ; I think the only thing of which I made a mockery were liberal organizations such as TFN, that simply do not know our nation’s history.”