Senate Bill 1515 by Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, now heads to the House for consideration.
This is the latest attempt from Texas Republicans to inject religion into public schools. In 2021, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican, authored a bill that became law requiring schools to display donated “In God We Trust” signs.
King said during a committee hearing earlier this month that the Ten Commandments are part of American heritage and it’s time to bring them back into the classroom. He said the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for his bill after it sided with Joe Kennedy, a high school football coach in Washington state who was fired for praying at football games. The court ruled that was praying as a private citizen, not as an employee of the district.
“[The bill] will remind students all across Texas of the importance of the fundamental foundation of America,” King said during that hearing.
The Senate also gave final passage to Senate Bill 1396, authored by Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, which would allow public and charter schools to adopt a policy requiring every campus to set aside a time for students and employees to read the Bible or other religious texts and to pray.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement that both bills are wins for religious freedom in Texas.
“I believe that you cannot change the culture of the country until you change the culture of mankind,” he said. “Bringing the Ten Commandments and prayer back to our public schools will enable our students to become better Texans.”
Matt Krause, a former Texas state representative and attorney with the First Liberty Institute, the organization that represented the Washington coach, said the Kennedy case was a victory in religious freedom and this bill would be protected.
“The Kennedy case for religious liberty was much like the Dobbs case was for the pro-life movement,” he said. “It was a fundamental shift.”
In opposition to the bill, John Litzler, general counsel and director of public policy at the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission, said at the committee hearing that the organization has concerns about taxpayer money being used to buy religious texts and that parents, not schools, should be having conversations about religion with their children.
“I should have the right to introduce my daughter to the concepts of adultery and coveting one's spouse,” Litzler said. “It shouldn’t be one of the first things she learns to read in her kindergarten classroom.”
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/04/20/texas-senate-passes-ten-commandments-bill/.
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