A Christian nationalist-led effort to force Texas public and charter schools to display a copy of the Ten Commandments in every classroom ended after right-wing lawmakers failed to bring it to a vote before midnight Monday, the end of the legislative session.
The bill passed the Texas Senate in April and was hotly debated in the House. During a House committee hearing earlier this month, Democratic state Rep. James Talarico called the bill “idolatrous.” Others said the argument that the Ten Commandments was an important American historical document rang hollow. They also pointed out that other ancient tomes, such as the Code of Hammurabi or the Magna Carta, aren't required to be displayed.
RELATED STORY: Texas legislator calls Ten Commandments bill 'idolatrous'
Christian nationalism is a long-standing problem in the history of the world, and a more acute problem in recent American history. The radical right Supreme Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District—which pretends that a coach praying on the 50-yard-line of a high school football field with students during working hours is “private and quiet”—has lit up right-wing think tanks across the country. It is immaterial to theocrats that the court’s ruling uses fact-free logic that would be laughed out of Judge Judy’s court.
The New York Times quotes former Texas Rep. Matt Krause (and identifies him as “a lawyer at First Liberty Institute”), in which he equates the decision with the court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. How exactly the two cases are the same, he does not explain. The Times also fails to mention how Krause’s entire public career, in and out of office, has been filled with attempts to make both abortion and being gay illegal.
While the chance to force the Ten Commandments into classrooms failed, other lines between church and state were inappropriately blurred by the Texas legislature this session. The Republican majority was able to pass a bill permitting public schools to hire chaplains in lieu of school counselors. As The Washington Post reported, chaplains are not beholden to certifications from the State Board for Educator Certification.
Democratic lawmakers were unable to get robust amendments put in place but did get an important one in: making sure that “registered sex offenders'' couldn't serve as chaplains, and instituting background checks. It seems Christian conservatives needed Democrats to make sure children were protected from their chaplain “counselors.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina Republicans are moving forward with a plan to get the state’s constitution changed in order to allow it to directly fund religious schools with taxpayer money. Doing it one better, an Oklahoma school board is set to vote on whether to “approve the first taxpayer-funded religious charter school in the United States.” I guess God needs some tax money?
In all of these cases, the argument is a perverse flip-flopping of the concept of religious freedom. It’s taking the age-old understanding that our country protects its citizens’ rights to practice whatever religion they want, and turning it into us paying for one group’s particular version of religion. What is at stake here is true religious freedom as granted by the Constitution. Stopping those who want to turn our country into a theocracy is more important than ever—and at the root of all theocracies is a profound ugliness.
In the past year, variations of this ugliness can be seen in the wrath of the Christian conservative movement around the country. It rears its head in the exclusionary discourse around the LGBTQ+ community and transgender children in particular. This attack on transgender children and families in recent years, when contextualized with the radical right’s position on the matter just 10 years ago, has laid bare the politics-first, spirituality-last ideology the Christian conservative movement embodies.
The results are a political attempt to turn our public education system into a privatized seminary, run like the Lowell Mills in 1820.
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