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Texas Republicans Have New Ideas To Force More Religion Into Public Schools

Finn from Cartoon Network's 'Adventure Time' forcing two characters overlayed with images of a school and Christian bible to kiss.

While the rhetoric of “taking God out of [public] schools” has not been the loudest manufactured culture war as of late, it certainly never left. A Christian persecution complex is always bubbling under the surface of different moral panics. However, I guess it’s been a few months because a new batch of evangelizing in public education laws has cropped up. In Texas, that’s Senate Bills 1515 and 763.

SB 1515 is framed in a way to address the shortage of mental healthcare resources, while the other bill is a blatant push for Christianity in schools. Unfortunately, both have a good chance of becoming law before the summer ends. Especially the latter, SB 763.

Religious doctrines in every classroom

SB 763 requires schools to hang posters of the Ten Commandments in K-12 classrooms. The scripture has to be framed (or durable), at least 16×20, and visible “from anywhere in the classroom.” This bill provides the exact text that the poster must have. And, yes, everything (except 4-5) begins with “Thou shall.” Schools must accept donations that meet the bill’s requirements. Bill author, Phil King, cites the SCOTUS decision Kennedy v. Bremerton School District in the Statement of Intent. The Supreme Court sided with a high school football coach after he was fired for coercing students to pray on the field.

This has a good chance of passing because a similar bill passed the last Texas legislative session two years ago. Current law SB 797 (from the architect of the Texas abortion ban) requires Texas schools to hang “In God We Trust” posters with strict requirements. That phrase became the U.S.’s motto in reaction to the Cold War. Additionally, while privileging the monotheistic, it’s vague enough to garner little backlash. The U.S. National Motto Project and American History & Heritage Foundation, alongside Hobby Lobby, coordinated the bill’s adoption.

After SB 797 passed, chapters of The Yellow Rose of Texas Republican Women and Moms For Liberty acted fast. They quickly printed, framed, and dropped off these posters to schools statewide. The main difference between SB 797 and this new bill is that the requirement for the poster to be in every classroom was stripped from the final version. (It just had to be in a “conspicuous place.”) Still, Hughes wasn’t satisfied with the final result because some donations came in Arabic and other languages. After a school district illegally rejected these donations, activists raised money to make more and print them in more languages, including Vulcan.

Republicans tackle mental health

While less likely to pass—though certainly not out of the realm of possibility—we also have SB 1515. The bill, an amendment to the Education Code’s School Safety Allotment, seeks to allow chaplains to serve as substitutes for school counselors. Bill author Mayes Middleton notes the funds to employ these religious leaders come from “funds to promote school safety.”

Despite voting down mental health access at the state and federal level, Texas Republican lawmakers have insisted that expanding mental health resources in schools will end mass gun violence. So between this and the persistent attitude that everything wrong in public education comes from supposedly taking God out of school (rather than the purposeful derailment in an effort to privatize education since the school desegregated), this is being framed as an effective method in curbing mass shootings.

Unlike SB 763, there’s some good in SB 1515, albeit with some significant caveats. In the best cases and for much of history, accessible religious leaders can serve for many as an important ally to rely on. The presence of chaplains is fairly common in larger hospitals for this reason. However, not only is this an erosion of the separation of church and state, but these chaplains are not required to have basic education certifications to teach according to this bill. It also continues the trend of deprofessionalizing fields to undermine public education. The biggest tell is that this bill explicitly says the person does not need certification by the State Board for Educators.

It also reduces the entire epidemic of gun violence down to an issue of mental health, effectively allowing Republicans to avoid ever addressing the need for stricter legislation.

Part of a larger trend

Texas, Florida, and many other states have had this growing trend of allowing people without expertise to enter into specialized fields in leadership positions. This includes teachers, librarians, and more. This is at the same time that people in education are at risk of firing, fines, and jail time for talking about race or gender in a way that doesn’t align with the narrowest vision of white Evangelical Christians. From teachers to support staff like librarians and counselors, there is a shortage in education. However, the best way to address this is to give educators what they are asking for—support. They’re not asking to be demoralized and replaced.

Despite the rhetoric, religion—or more specifically, Christianity/Catholicism—never left public education. God is still said in both pledges of allegiance. (Yes, in Texas, we have two. One for the national flag and one for the Texas one.) The holidays students have off by default are those centered around Christianity. The few typical non-Christian holidays are essentially about the colonialist project in the name of Christianity. SB 1515 and 763 are framed as options for school instead of demands. However, they each have triggers for how to fast-track the implementation for schools that don’t immediately adopt these measures.

(featured image: screencap remixed by Alyssa Shotwell)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)