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In Texas, Republicans Push Bills Aimed At Enhancing Faith’s Role in School

”I read and I chant the Ten Commandments in Hebrew — the original language — every year,” said Allen, who pointed out that Jewish traditions typically don’t number the edicts the same way as Christians. (Christians, in turn, have multiple ways of numbering the Ten Commandments that vary by tradition.)

The bill would effectively “endorse Protestant Christianity,” argued Allen, who lives in Sen. King’s district and has spoken to him on the phone about legislation in the past.

Texas House members with family and guests crowd the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol for the opening of the 88th Texas Legislative Session in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

David Donatti, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said he expected all of the bills to face swift legal challenges if they are signed into law.

“Each of them is differently unconstitutional in addition to sharing some unconstitutionality,” he told RNS.

Donatti pointed out that the counselors bill does not define chaplain and argued the Ten Commandments bill in particular was likely to be seen as running afoul of existing precedent regarding the separation of church and state. In addition to privileging a specific religious text, he noted it also potentially puts public school teachers in a position to have to explain to young students the meaning of Biblical commandments such as “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant …”

“Freedom of religion protects all of us and all of our abilities to believe and to think freely, and this bill is just a flagrant violation of that,” he said.

Donatti also challenged the idea that the bills related to chaplains and reading religious texts are religiously neutral, noting public schools will likely struggle to cater to all faiths adequately.

“We have not financed our schools in a way to make it possible to have truly non-sectarian, religiously pluralistic moments of meditation,” he said. “In practice, I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to have a particular religious tradition very well represented, while others are not very well represented.”

Americans United for Separation of Church and State Vice President of Strategic Communications Andrew Seidel was among those who have spoken out against the bills, telling the Jewish Daily Forward they are “very clearly an attempt to codify white Christian nationalism into the Texas law.”

Carisa Lopez, political director of the liberal-leaning Texas Freedom Network, said similar bills were occasionally introduced in the past legislative sessions, only to fall flat. But in the current political climate — one where religious conservatives across the country have fused religious fervor with a sustained criticism of public schools — such proposals are coming before the legislature more often, and with increasing success.

“In the past, it’s kind of been lawmakers more on the fringe,” she said. “Now we’re actually seeing them gain some momentum.”

Last year, state Republicans successfully passed a law mandating schools display “In God We Trust” posters that were donated to the school. Detractors decried the law as Christian nationalism, and activists tried to find ways to frustrate supporters of the law. In one North Texas school district, an activist donated signs with “In God We Trust” written in Arabic or superimposed over a rainbow background, but the school district rejected the signs, insisting they already had enough.

This article originally appeared here.