Senate bill aims to display 10 Commandments in Texas classrooms

Texas Senate Republicans are pushing a bill that would require schools to prominently displayed the Ten Commandments in every single classroom starting next year. 

Senate Bill 1515 passed out of the Senate, and the House will soon take it up for consideration. 

This is the latest attempt from Texas Republicans to inject religion into the public schools. In the last session, the Senate passed a bill that became law requiring schools to display donated in God We Trust signs.

The rise in religion in public life is the subject of an in-depth article in the Texas Tribune. The story talks about the eroding of the separation of church and state and how Christian conservatives and their donors are impacting public decision makers in Texas. 

The author of that article, Robert Downen, is the Texas Tribune's democracy reporter. He joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren in the studio to discuss his story and the recent bills.

MIKE WARREN: You know why this push for Judeo-Christian iconography and teachings by some of these Texas lawmakers?

ROBERT DOWNEN: So, you know, there are many reasons. But one of the things that common or frequently came up in legislative hearings so far has been this idea that, you know, America has strayed from, you know, universal moral truths that are contained in the Ten Commandments and in religion more broadly, and that by returning to those really Judeo-Christian virtues, that is a solution to the many American ills we have from school shootings to crime to LGBTQ acceptance, to all of these kinds of more culture war issues that have always been a, you know, hot button issues for the GOP more broadly.

MIKE WARREN: Talking about Christian nationalism, what is that? And is that something that is growing in the Texas GOP?

ROBERT DOWNEN: Christian nationalism, to make it very simple, is the idea that, you know, the United States was a God-ordained nation and that our founding was God-ordained, and therefore our laws, our institutions and our education system as well should favor and prioritize Christian virtues. And this is an idea that's always kind of been under the surface of, you know, Texas and United States politics. But we've seen in the last five years, particularly in the wake of Trump, a really mainstreaming of a lot of these pillars of this belief. You have Marjorie Taylor Greene espousing those beliefs. You know, Trump ran on a promise to give Christians power. And in the Texas legislature this year, we're seeing a lot more people talk about the church state separation as a myth and as a false doctrine and all of these kinds of things that are undergird this broader idea of Christian nationalism.

MIKE WARREN: In your reporting, are you getting anybody pushing back on this?

ROBERT DOWNEN: You know, we've had a few people that have kind of argued the point that a lot of these legislatures and legislators and groups are making that, you know, because church state, you know, church and state separation isn't explicitly said in the Constitution, that it's not a real doctrine. But if you look at, you know, there's a whole field, you know, body of work from scholars and historians showing why that's not the case.

MIKE WARREN: So you also wrote about the Supreme Court changing the legal landscape when it comes to prayer and funding. Talk about that.

ROBERT DOWNEN: Yeah, so there have been a series of really important Supreme Court decisions over the last few years, including two related to school finance that have kind of been, you know, the impetus for challenges to what are called Blaine amendments, which are these prohibitions in state constitutions that kind of limit or, you know, direct state supports of religious organizations, including schools. And then another as consequential was last year's Kennedy decision, in which the Supreme Court's conservative super majority ruled in favor of a Washington state football coach who wanted to pray at the football field.


MIKE WARREN: So I asked you about pushback, but are non-Christians voicing any concerns with you about these Texas conservatives in this religious push?

ROBERT DOWNEN: Oh, absolutely. And I mean, I should say it's not just limited to non-Christians. Christians have pushed back, too. But one of the common refrains we've heard is that, you know, in a quickly diversifying and secularizing society, it's at best discriminatory to elevate one faith over another. And you know, one of the people I quoted in my article was saying, it's really depressing to feel as if our lawmakers don't fully understand or acknowledge how much they contribute to the state.

MIKE WARREN: You can read the entire article for yourself online at Robert Downen, Texas Tribune democracy reporter. Thanks for your time.