House Bill 3678, the Texas Religious Expression Protection Law,
Is Designed to Force Sectarian Religion into Public Schools
Using the Power of the State, and Is Therefore Unconstitutional
by Steven Schafersman
July 9, 2007
The following is a letter sent to all members of the Senate Education Committee before their debate and vote, explaining why HB 3678 is illegal (unconstitutional), disingenuous, anti-scientific, and mean-spirited. Despite the entreaty, the Howard-Chisum stealth bill was passed and ultimately signed into law by Governor Rick Perry on June 15, 2007. Once the effects of this poorly-thought out statute are in force in Texas, an enormous amount of First Amendment litigation will occur. The bill--now a law--is an example of the powerful Texas radical religious right's aggressive program to promote and force their sectarian religious beliefs into the public school environment using the power of the state. They do this to counter the Constitutional secular and neutral nature of the public school system, and to reinforce the almost pervasive religious proselytization of children in Texas society. The religion promoted and forced into the public schools by this new statute will be, of course, Protestant Christianity. The new law will obligate captive audiences of tens of thousands of school children to listen to Protestant Christian prayers and mini-sermons under the guidance and direction of state authorities (school administrators).
As for the new law's anti-science content, students will be allowed to substitute their own sectarian religious explanations for scientific, historical, and cultural events and phenomena without fear of contradiction or correction. The law permits students, for example, to give responses in classes--no exception is made for science classes--that allow religious creationist explanations for natural phenomena in classwork, homework, and exams without penalty. Howard and Chisum have finally succeeded in getting creationism into our public school science classrooms. This is not education, but miseducation--the opposite of education.
Texas Citizens for Science considers this new law profoundly un-Constitutional and un-American, since it uses the power of the state to allow a particular majority's religious viewpoint to be forced on children of minority faiths or non-faith in Texas public schools. State proselytization of sectarian religion is always against the Constitution, the supreme law of the United States. The Texas Constitution also prohibits giving preference to any religion. Therefore, Texas Legislators who voted for this illegal and unnecessary bill are guilty of violating their oaths to defend the Constitution of both Texas and the United States.
The above is a pessimistic interpretation of the new law, but it takes years for stupid, illegal legislation like HB 3678 to be analyzed and implemented by school officials and then litigated by civil liberty and church-state separation organizations. Just more expense for Texas due to the ignorance and stupidity of our state legislators--in other words, business as usual.
The Text and History of HB 3678 are available on the Texas State Legislature website. The final Act signed into law is here.
A fairly complete collection of newspaper articles covering the Texas Religious Expression Protection Law is now available (added 2008 January 20).
May 16, 2007
I urge you to reject HB 3678, the so-called "Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act," that is being considered by the Senate Education Committee. The bill is a stealth bill whose true purpose is to promote religious discrimination and proselytizing in public schools, with the additional purpose of damaging science education in biology courses.
Representatives Charlie Howard and Warren Chisum have been trying for years to undermine instruction about evolutionary science in high school biology classes, as well as promote an atmosphere that favors their own brand of fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. HB 3678 was written to accomplish both of these, although it purports to be a bill to protect the right of voluntary student religious expression, a right that already exists and is protected by the U.S. Constitution. HB 3678 is a sham bill that does not accomplish what it claims. Rather, it is a radical attempt to force all students and teachers to listen to religious expressions by some student evangelists who want to use public school classrooms to promote their personal religious beliefs.
The bill is written to appear to be neutral and lawful, but First Amendment Constitutional law already protects legitimate student expressions of religion. The purpose of this bill is to allow students to aggressively state their beliefs about creationism in science and Protestant Christianity in history, health, and other classrooms without fear of contradiction by teachers. The bill states, "Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Students shall neither be penalized nor rewarded on account of religious content." Thus, a biology teacher may not penalize a student for giving answers on biology homework, classwork, and exams that invoke non-scientific creationist explanations of natural phenomena. Students may hold such pseudoscientific beliefs, learned in their churches and Sunday schools, but it is a perversion of science and education to permit such expressions in a science class without contradiction by a science teacher.
If this bill passes, half of the students in Texas public schools will be instructed and encouraged by their Sunday school leaders and ministers to state creationist and Biblical literalist beliefs in their public schools, thus permitting proselytizing and expressions of pseudoscience in public schools. The majority of students--Protestant Christians--will engage in this practice, while minority faiths and secular students will be intimidated to keep quiet for fear of reprisal or public condemnation. In addition, minority faith students will be obligated to listen to these expressions against their desire or will, since the statute would explicitly protect that expression in forums in which they are a captive audience.
The bill is designed to encourage students to express their religious beliefs, not just permit them. The bill will create an atmosphere of aggressive religiosity and intimidation in all public school classrooms, especially biology classes when creationist students (about half of Texas public school students) object to evolutionary science instruction by publicly expressing their own beliefs in young Earth creationism and intelligent design creationism in their homework, classwork, and classroom statements. With HB 3678, this kind of aggressive pseudoscience will be allowed, much to the detriment of science education. Teachers will be forced to give students positive credit for such pseudoscience because the statute explicitly requires it. Many other subjects will be similarly affected.
The bill creates an officious and burdensome framework that every school district must create and adopt to carry out the stipulations of the bill. This is an authoritarian and even draconian solution to a non-existent problem. The bill's analysis by Rep. Howard is flatly wrong. He writes, "School children are being censored and reprimanded at school, leaving them in fear of punishment for their religious beliefs. Due to hostility toward religious expression, children are being forced to defend their First Amendment rights in courtrooms all across Texas, and throughout the nation. School districts' practices and policies continue to violate the free speech rights of students, regardless of court decisions to the contrary." This is all untrue. Private religious expressions and prayers of students have always been allowed in public schools, such as quiet prayers in classrooms, private expressions of religious belief, and "meeting at the flagpole" to pray before school. What courts have consistently ruled against are religious expressions that are public, intrusive, and receive administrative legitimacy because they occur in student assemblies or public functions. The bill actually promotes the latter, which is currently illegal. HR 3678 requires a disclaimer under such circumstances, stating that the speech is not endorsed by the school district, but this is perfidious nonsense. A public disclaimer does not thereby make the unconstitutional speech Constitutional, especially since the captive audience of students and teachers will be forced to listen to the speech.
Howard and Chisum's religious expression bill is a sham; it is a stealth bill designed not to permit legitimate and proper religious expression (which is already protected), but to promote creationism and encourage sectarian proselytization by extreme right-wing Protestant Christians. If enacted, the new law will create an adversarial environment in which intimidation of religious minorities will become commonplace. The bill will certainly lead to massive amounts of litigation as religious minorities are increasingly affected. HB 3678 is a bad bill which is sneaking through the Legislature without reasonable evaluation and skepticism by legislators. I urge you to stop this bill in the Senate Education Committee before it pours gasoline on an already-burning fire.
I sincerely believe this extremely disingenuous, counterproductive, and unnecessary bill will damage science education in Texas. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you or your staff have any questions.
Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
6202 Driftwood Drive
Midland, TX 79707