April 2002 Issue #85
Despite the fact that the religious right (RR) controls the state and county GOP structures, several RR candidates, including some who made blatant appeals to “pro-family” voters, lost their Republican primary races. In one notable race, a candidate for family court judge, Donna Detamore, sent mailers charging that her opponent, Jim York, supports homosexual adoption and asking, “Do we really want a family court judge who doesn’t share our conservative family values?” As an associate judge, York had granted joint custody to two same sex couples of children who had been conceived by artificial insemination. York did not directly defend his rulings but suggested that the elected judge for whom he worked set policy for that court. He had several hard right politicians vouch for his commitment to “pro-family values.” Congressman John Culberson and others withdrew their endorsements of Detamore due to the mailers. York beat Detamore in the runoff. Most activists agree that the failure of Detamore’s attack is a watershed event and that GOP campaigns will soon enter a new, friendlier or at least subtler era.
In another high-profile race, Judge Elizabeth Ray lost her bid for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court. Before the election, a local religious right publication carried an article written by Ray entitled “The Role of a Christian Judge” in which she said she viewed her work in a secular court system “as a ministry.”
The nonbinding “Freedom of Faith Referendum” on the Republican primary ballot, calling for legislation to protect public religious speech on or off school property, passed Harris County by 76% and Texas by 71%. The overall turnout in Harris County was about 10% of registered voters, up from 7% in 1998. The percentages of Republicans and Democrats voting were about the same, the former declining and the latter increasing from 1998.
The RR, which holds 6 seats on the 15-member State Board of Education, appears not to have gained any ground in the Republican primary. RR incumbents David Bradley and Don McLeroy defeated challengers, incumbent RR member Geraldine Miller had no opponent, and a candidate supported by the RR won a seat being vacated by a RR member. The RR won 2 seats now held by Republicans not aligned with the RR when they upset board chair Grace Shore and elected Terri Leo from Houston. Neither has an opponent in the fall. On the other side, RR-backed candidates lost 2 seats from which RR members are retiring and a RR challenger failed to unseat incumbent Dan Montgomery.
Every candidate targeted by Free PAC won his Republican primary race. The RR group had sent flyers accusing some incumbent legislators of supporting a “radical homosexual agenda.”
Texas GOP chairman Susan Weddington endorsed a candidate in a primary race, disregarding the usual neutrality taken by top party officials in primaries. Party insiders do not believe Weddington’s move will affect her position, the Austin American-Statesman reported, since she is part of the RR faction that controls the party.
Religious Right Agenda In Congress
Pres. Bush, standing with RR groups, urged the Senate to ban human cloning. The Senate is divided on whether to allow “therapeutic” cloning for research or to ban all cloning, as the House did.
Rep. Istook has again introduced a constitutional amendment supporting religious expression on public property (H. J. RES. 81). He calls it the “School Prayer Amendment.” It reads:
“Neither the United States nor any State shall establish any official religion, but the people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. The United States and the States shall not compose school prayers, nor require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity.”
It has 82 cosponsors. This version is slightly different from the one Istook introduced in 1997 and 1999 because it does not ban discriminating against religion and denying equal access to a benefit on account of religion. In 1998, a majority in the House voted for it but not the two-thirds required for a constitutional amendment. It was not voted on during the last session.
The House is expected to vote on and pass the Child Custody Protection Act (HR 476) soon. The act would make it a crime for anyone other than a parent to take a minor across state lines for an abortion to avoid a state’s parental notification law. Opponents call it the “Teen Endangerment Act.” In the last two Congresses, similar laws passed the House but not the Senate.
With Bush’s backing, a compromise version of his faith-based plan has been introduced in the Senate as the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act of 2002 (S.1924). Its provisions include tax incentives to spur more charitable giving, expedited procedures for obtaining tax-exempt status, and technical assistance to nonprofit groups. The bill does not contain charitable choice provisions (funding religious social service programs) or exempt religious social service providers from employment discrimination laws, two of the most controversial aspects of Bush’s plan. It does allow social service providers to keep displayed religious symbols. The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Sens. Lieberman and Santorum and has 14 prominent cosponsors. Both the RR and some of their opponents have criticized the bill. Bush has called for the Senate to pass it by Memorial Day. Majority Leader Daschle supports it and said he will work to move it quickly.
Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act (HR 2357), which would allow houses of worship to engage in political campaigns, has gained 71 new cosponsors since August. It now has 113.
Rep. Aderholt has introduced the Ten Commandments Defense Act of 2002 (HR 3895). It declares that states may display the Ten Commandments on state or local government property and no federal law can stop expressions of religious faith by individuals on state property. Its 60 cosponsors include Brady, DeLay, Green, and Paul. Aderholt offered this bill in 1998 but it did not reach a vote.
Ten Commandments Public Display Resolution of 2002 (H.CON.Res.315) would require that the Ten Commandments be “prominently” displayed in the House and Senate chambers. Introduced in February, it has 16 cosponsors, including Gene Green.
Governor Appeals for Support of Faithful
Texas Gov. Rick Perry told a Longview church that he is “going to advance the cause of faith, because the seeds of faith are rooted, not only in me but in the roots of this country and Texas." He asserted that he bowed his head and said “amen” last fall at a public school “because it was right." "I have yet to run across many people who don't feel it's important for children to pray in school,” he said.
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