B.L.U.F.: Texas Senate Bill 1515 is unconstitutional and therefore should be removed.
Here on GFZ, we look at the constitutionality of laws and bills. AWA does a fantastic job of working his way through the infringer suits that are working their way up the chain. I am not nearly so skilled, but there are issues which I take a more traditionally Leftist stance on, which I believe should be looked at with the same deep scrutiny and view of constitutionality as we do the gun bills, laws, and court cases.
Currently, Texas has a Bill going to their House which requires schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms, SB 1515. This is not an optional thing. Classrooms in elementary through secondary school will be required to post the Ten Commandments in each classroom, prominently. The version of the Commandments must be the one outlined in the Bill; no other version will be accepted.
This goes contrary to Stone v. Graham (see below), which ruled that Kentucky could not mandate the display of the Commandments in public school classrooms, because it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
To decide if a “religious liberty” case is constitutional or not, the SCOTUS decided (in 1971, Lemon v. Kurtzman, see below) that there would be a three pronged test. First, the statute must have a primarily secular purpose. Second, the main effect of its application cannot aid or inhibit religion. Third, it must be clear that government and religion are not “excessively entangled”.
Let’s apply this three prong test to SB 1515.
Does SB 1515 have a primarily secular purpose? “The Ten Commandments are significant to American history because the document informed the country’s founding principles, said Rep. Candy Noble, R-Lucas…” (“Texas Bill Promoting Ten Commandments in Public Classrooms Poses Complex Legal Questions”). Basically, this says that a religious document was important to the founding principles, and therefore we should post up a part of this religious document and force all students to see it every day. I posit that if the purpose of the Bill was to teach Texas students about the founding principles of America, the proper document to be prominently displayed would be a full copy of the Constitution, Amendments, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence. These didn’t “inform the country’s founding principles,” they ARE the country’s founding principles.
Does the displaying of the Ten Commandments aid or inhibit religion? Well, frankly, yes. When I want to test something as being religiously “fair”, I always ask myself whether it would be acceptable if it were something Muslim, or something Pagan, as well as something Christian. Would people in Texas be happy with some of the Quran being “prominently displayed” in a classroom? How about the Wiccan Rede? I think not. And why not? Because the very Right Christian parents don’t want their children seeing those things in a classroom, and they very rightly say that they do not belong in a classroom. If you cannot pass the stink test for other religions, you can’t pass it for Christianity. Hanging up a huge honking poster of the Ten Commandments would be a slap in the face of many children in America. Sikhs, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, and Atheists would all see preferential treatment given to Judaism’s “very important document”, and nothing of their own. This country was founded on the backs of many beliefs and religions, ALL of whom “informed the country’s founding principles.”
Is it clear that displaying the Ten Commandments is not entangling government and religion? No, it is not clear at all. It muddies the waters horribly. There are many documents that are vitally important to the founding of this country, and while the Ten Commandments might be one of them, it’s definitely not the largest. How about the Federalist Papers? The Articles of Confederation? Again, if the Texas legislature wants to teach their children core values about the founding of the United States of America, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of documents that will do as well or better than a contentious religious one. The fact that they picked a religious document (and not just any, but the King James version, I might add, as they are NOT all the same) speaks volumes as to their purpose in presenting it.
So why am I posting this up, considering it has little to do with gun rights and culture? I am doing so because I want to make it clear that this is the kind of Bill that makes the 49% of us in this country who are NOT Christian get very concerned. You’ve tasked me with pointing out Leftist views, and this is one I’m apparently firmly on the Left with. There are literally thousands of other posters that could get across the idea of morals being a good thing for kids to develop, without shouting, “I AM the LORD thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (SB 1515) This is, in my very strong opinion, immorality on display.
AWA asked me a question when we were discussing this a few weeks back: Does posting up the Ten Commandments hurt anyone? I stumbled on that question, because it doesn’t physically hurt anyone, certainly (unless it leads to pogroms, but that’s another article). Does it cause mental or emotional harm? I firmly believe that it does. More importantly, though, I have to say that the question was inappropriate. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if it “hurts” someone. If so, guns would be banned today. They DO hurt people (or rather, people use them to hurt other people). The question that needs to be asked is whether it is Constitutional. And the answer to that is a definite NO.
AWA: The discussion was interesting to me because there really are two parts to the question: 1)Is it constitutional for the state to require a religious document/doctrine be posted in K-12 schools? 2) is it harmful to post this particular document?
I’m pretty confident that this bill fails the constitutionality test. I am also confident that this particular religious document provides a good starting point for morals.
At issue, in my opinion, is the total lack of discussion about good morals in the education industry. To teach that the Christians believe in these 10 rules as a foundation and that turned into this moral code is reasonable. In the same way that another religion might have a foundation of “do no evil”. These are all used for a basis of moral codes in the secular world.
These cases are found on the Religious Liberty website.
Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)
The Court considered whether a Pennsylvania law reimbursing religious schools with state funds for textbooks and teacher salaries for non-public, non-secular schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In an 8-0 decision, the Court set out a three-pronged test for the constitutionality of a statute, by which a statute is constitutional if: (1) it has a primarily secular purpose; (2) its principal effect neither aids nor inhibits religion; and (3) government and religion are not excessively entangled. On this basis, the Court struck down the Pennsylvania law as in violation of the Establishment Clause, finding that the statute constituted an excessive government entanglement with religion. (Citation: 403 US 602)
Stone v. Graham (1980)
The Court considered whether a Kentucky state law mandating the display of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Applying the three-prong test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), the Court found 5-4 that the Kentucky law was unconstitutional, because it had no secular legislative purpose. The Court also found that by mandating posting of the Commandments under the guidance of the legislature, the state was providing official support of religion, which was a violation of the Establishment Clause. (Citation: 449 US 39)
“Texas Bill Promoting Ten Commandments in Public Classrooms Poses Complex Legal Questions.” Austin American-Statesman, www.statesman.com/story/news/education/2023/05/03/texas-legislature-senate-bill-1515-advances-pushes-for-ten-commandments-in-schools-classrooms/70170060007.
10 thoughts on “The Great Divide”
Once the government became involved in the educational system in the USA, the Ten Commandments no longer could be posted as a part of policy. An Atheists’ children have a right to an education just as non-atheists’ children do, therefore as a matter of just and equal treatment for all, religious documents of any kind should not be mandated per policy.
If a parent desires their children education to be based on a religious doctrine or document, then they should choose a private educational institution which provides that policy.
The American Taxpayer funds the government public educational system, and therefore it must respect all beliefs by not being involved with any religious belief system. Religious doctrine should be part of public education policy.
But I’ve noticed in the news recently that there are satanic clubs or meetings being allowed in some public schools, just as there are religious clubs and meetings. The better approach would be to keep all such religious efforts out of public education. But then again, if you make allowances for non-heterosexual lifestyles (LGBTQ+P) to be promoted in any way or anti-god expressions to take place as part of policy, then I believe the argument of keeping religion out of public schools is nullified. It’s ALL or NONE.
Sauce for the goose… Aye! No Christianity? No Paganism, Muslim, No Judaism, No Wicca… you get the point. Might consider an exception if there were a comparative religion course being taught, in that classroom and at the time it is being taught.
Robert, exactly. If you want to teach that the Founding Fathers were Deists (for the most part), that’s fine. That’s history, and it’s talking about THEM. But talking about Christianity, that doesn’t belong in the school. And yes, comparative religion courses are fine, or “religion in history” and such, where it’s not a mandated course and kids can opt out of it or simply not take it. That’s not a problem at all. The problem is when it’s forced on all students.
I will admit that I see a difference between one’s “being” (I’m not ‘straight’, for instance, and could not be if I tried… it’s just part of my existence, like the color of my eyes, skin, and hair) and one’s religion. You “follow” a religion, you “are” a gender, orientation, or skin color. However, I’d much rather have none, than to have the Ten Commandments posted. But you run into the same thing as we did with skin color in the 60s. I’m not straight, and telling me I have to pretend to be while in school is as wrong as telling a black person that they need to pee in a different toilet.
Bottom line, though, is that it’s unconstitutional. That’s where it stops.
A public school has just as little business telling someone they must be anything as they do teaching a mandatory religious education class, that is none.
When any person goes to a public school for basic education, their personal preferences and their personal identity should not matter—-they are all people who need to be educated, nothing more. Hagar, I would never ask you or anyone to PRETEND to be anything they are not. Instead I would require that you come to school to learn what you do not know and nothing else. I never remotely insinuated that ‘pretending’ be what a person should do.
Public Education is blind or should be blind to what each person is in regard to personality and preferences. Reserve those personal things for outside of public education system. And if that policy is something which a person cannot agree to do, then they should enroll in a school which serves them in that regard.
Years ago it was not uncommon for schools to enforce a dress code for females and males. Everyone looked the same-similar but not a ditto of one another, for boys and for the girls. I always agreed with this policy. It removed most of the personal preferences of private life from the public taxpayer funded school body. It FORCED all students to concentrate more on the one single reason they were in school, which was to learn a basic education upon which to base the rest of their lives on.
I’m firmly on the right and agree with your reasoning here. As for the question of “does it hurt anyone?” No, it doesn’t, nor would posting anything from another religion. But that’s irrelevant. Because it’s still unconstitutional and thus should not be allowed.
Birdog, your response is exactly why the Constitutionality of it is the important part. I can list a dozen ways that it does hurt people (not physically, but in other ways) to require posting religious stuff in a classroom, and I’m pretty sure you’d be able to opinion your way out of each one of them. It shouldn’t even come up, because it’s unconstitutional.
You’re right, it shouldn’t come up because it’s unconstitutional. But being exposed to a different opinion doesn’t actually harm anyone. I am disgusted by islam, but being exposed to it’s tenets doesn’t harm me.
100% agree with you. I think symbolic appeals to god along the lines of “one nation under god…” Are acceptable but this goes past that.
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