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Religious Freedom in Texas Schools

The only conclusion I can draw from the recent decision by a state district court in Texas is that the U.S. Constitution doesn't apply there. I'm referring to a temporary injunction against the Kountze school district prohibiting it from enforcing a ban on Bible-themed banners at school events ("Texas Judge, Siding With Cheerleaders, Allows Bible Verses on Banners at School Games," The New York Times, Oct. 19).

In his ruling, the judge sided with the governor and attorney general that the ban violated a state law requiring schools to treat student expression of religion the same way it treated secular views. But when a football team bursts onto the field through a banner with a religious message, the practice clearly is a school-sponsored event. That's not the same as allowing students to display a symbol of personal identification - religious or secular.

Whatever the final decision from the trial scheduled to begin on Jun. 24, 2013, I see the issue as another step in the gradual erosion of the wall between church and state. For example, a federal judge ruled in June that religious groups can use public schools to hold services ("U.S. Court Ruling Allows Religious Groups to Use Schools for Services," The New York Times, Jun. 29). And this semester, more than 100,000 children in public schools from age four to 12 are scheduled to engage in Bible study from the Good News Club ("How Christian fundamentalists plan to teach genocide to schoolchildren," The Guardian, May 30). Although the Bible study takes place after the regular school day is over, the club exists primarily to leave small children with the false impression that their school supports a particular creed.

The entire religious movement in public schools was given the green light in 2001 by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Good News Club v. Milford Central School. In a 6-3 decision, the high court held that the district violated the free speech rights of the Good News Club by preventing it from using the school's facilities after school was out. I expect to see the decision cited as the basis for further inroads by similar religious groups. I have no problem at all with teaching about religion, but I'm opposed to religious indoctrination. Apparently, Texas is not bothered by a blurring of the line between the two.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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