Thou shalt honor our secular public schools, Texas

It sounds almost like a parody. Today, the Texas Senate Education Committee is entertaining two extremist bills, one requiring that the Ten Commandments be installed in every public classroom and a second to permit schools to hire pastors as chaplains instead of school counselors.

“A public elementary or secondary school shall display in a conspicuous place in each classroom of the school a durable poster or framed copy of the Ten Commandments,” commands Senate Bill 1515. It specifies that each poster must be at least 16 by 20 inches and be readable from anywhere in the classroom. It even mandates a Protestant version of the biblical edicts to be displayed — since it includes the commandment, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image,” which Catholic versions delete. Could there be a more obvious establishment of religion?

State Sen. Phil King, the sponsor, has clogged the legislative schedule with an actively unconstitutional bill. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court firmly ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in public schools is unconstitutional. Stone v. Graham addressed a similar Kentucky law that required the permanent display of the Ten Commandments in every classroom. (The case, by the way, was argued by attorney Cameron Stone, a longtime FFRF member.) The court ruled:

“The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact.”

The decision noted: “The commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one’s parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness and covetousness. See Exodus 20:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:16-21. Rather, the first part of the commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshiping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord’s name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day. See Exodus 20:1-11; Deuteronomy 5:6-15.”

The court continued, “Posting of religious texts on the wall serves no such educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.” Having the Ten Commandments copies donated does not mitigate the violation, the court added. The Kentucky statute specified that the posters should be paid through voluntary contributions, but the Texas bill specifies that public funds can be used.

After reporting on the bills, NBC News senior investigative reporter Mike Hixenbaugh quoted from the 10th commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, nor his maidservant,” and tweeted: “Please explain that to a 6-year-old.”

“Or how about explaining the prohibition on adultery to a kindergartner?” adds FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “As FFRF has always pointed out, the government, much less a public school, has no business telling anyone which gods they must have, how many gods they must have or that they must have any god at all. The First Commandment expressly violates the First Amendment.”

The second clearly unconstitutional bill, SB 763, would allow chaplains who are not certified by the state education board to “perform the duties of school counselors.”

According to the Texas Education Agency’s website, school counselors “intervene on behalf of any student whose immediate personal concerns or problems put the student’s continued educational, career, personal or social development at risk.”

A chaplain, with no formal counseling certification, has absolutely no business carrying out these duties. This is a clear attempt to legitimize the proselytizing of public school children.

Neither bill has a place in secular education. We’ll await the committee’s action. Stay tuned.

FFRF Action Fund sent out an action alert to more than 1,600 secular Texans, and has been in contact with local secular organizations in Texas, urging them to contact the committee to kill these bills.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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