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February 2003           Issue #95


Religious Right Agenda In Legislature


  • Houston Rep. Ron Wilson has filed two bills to create a voucher pilot program (HB 293 and HB 658). Under both, children in the six largest school districts, including Houston and Cypress-Fairbanks, who qualify for reduced-price or free lunches and who either failed the state assessment test or attend a low-performing school and have had an application to transfer to another public school rejected would be eligible. The school district would pay the average funding per student estimated to be $4,700 to $5,700 depending on the district to the private school. Wilson’s bills are almost identical except the second one removed a section on accountability.

  • HB 15 would regulate by whom and where abortions can be performed and would require a doctor to inform a woman seeking an abortion, at least 24 hours beforehand, about the medical risks of the procedure and of carrying the child to term, the fetus’ probable gestational age, and resources for financial assistance and pregnancy prevention.

  • HB 38 (the Defense of Marriage Act) would prohibit the state from recognizing or validating a marriage or civil union between persons of the same gender. Vermont is the only state that allows such unions. Reps. Callegari, Crabb, Davis, Nixon, Smith, Van Arsdale, and Woolley are coauthors.

  • SB 83 and its companion bills, HB 87 & 167, would require every public school to observe a minute of silence during each school day. During that period, each student may, as he chooses, “reflect, pray, meditate, or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student.” Area rep. Bohac has introduced a similar bill (HB 640) that also requires students to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance after the minute of silence.

  • HB 194 would disqualify homosexuals and bisexuals from serving as foster parents.

  • SB 156 would ban human cloning in Texas.


You can read and find out more about these bills at

Daily Prayers In Legislature Cause Stir

A Jewish legislator raised a question about the daily prayers that open House sessions after a Baptist minister’s prayer invoked Jesus Christ’s name twice. Houston Rep. Scott Hochberg felt that some prayers this year have had a proselytizing tone and excessive references to Christ. Seven of this year’s 13 sessions have begun with prayers mentioning Christ. Hochberg, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman, felt “uncomfortable being there, being expected to participate in a prayer that was counter to my religious beliefs" and felt excluded. When those who do not pray in Jesus’ name are asked to do that, “that cuts us out of the loop and that very much says we are not expected to participate.”

Speaker Craddick’s office responded quickly. It drafted a letter about the prayers, asking that "the tone and content be respectful of the diverse nature of the body, such that all members of the House, whatever their respective faith, may add their voice to the collective `amen' that begins our day's work." The House Sergeant at Arms will sign the letter.

The Baptist minister told the Statesman that he might be unable to offer a prayer in the chamber under the letter’s guidelines. "To be able to say a prayer where Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and Protestants all said `amen' together, I don't think I could pray that way because the Bible clearly states the only way to the father is through Christ. My prayer would be nullified if I did not pray in Jesus' name."

In the Senate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ordered that a rabbi’s prayer be included in the Senate Journal, the official record, after the body’s parliamentarian and secretary had omitted it because they thought it was too political. The journal usually prints the prayers. The language at issue was, “Planned Parenthood saves lives, reproductive freedom is a cherished American liberty.” Dewhurst ruled that "all prayers will be printed as they were given," according to his spokesman, who added, “We shouldn't be in the business of censoring prayers."

Feds Investigate If Professor's
Evolutionist Beliefs Discriminate

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an official inquiry into whether a Texas Tech University biology professor engages in religious discrimination by declining to write letters of recommendation to graduate or professional school in the biomedical sciences for students who do not believe in evolution. The inquiry was prompted by a complaint by the Free Market Foundation’s Liberty Legal Institute and a Tech student.

The web site of the professor, Dr. Michael Dini, explains his position. “Modern medicine is an endeavor that springs from the sciences, biology first among these. The central, unifying principle of biology is the theory of evolution…How can someone who does not accept the most important theory in biology expect to properly practice in a field that is so heavily based on biology?” One who denies the evidence of human evolution “has committed malpractice regarding the method of science, for good scientists would never throw out data that do not conform to their expectations or beliefs. Dini told the New York Times that his policy is meant “to ensure” that people who he recommends to a medical, professional, or graduate school in the biomedical sciences “are scientists.” Dini has declined to discuss his religious views but his web site and former students indicate that he is a devout Catholic.

The student, a junior who wants to be a doctor, sat in on two sessions of Dini's introductory biology class, withdrew from the university after learning about Dini’s policy, enrolled in another university and got a recommendation letter, and then reenrolled at Tech. He told the New York Times, "They've taken prayer out of schools and the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms, so I thought I had an opportunity to make a difference." The Liberty Legal Institute asserted that a professor at a state university “is not allowed to ask people to deny their religious beliefs.”

The university says a professor’s recommendation letter is not subject to its control or regulation. It says it will stand by Dini.



What Can I Do?


The Texas Eagle Forum, Texas Christian Coalition, Free Market Foundation, and Concerned Women of America cosponsored a “Family-Friendly Legislative Day” in Austin on Feb. 11. Speakers discussed “pro-family” bills and issues. Participants then lobbied their representatives about those issues.

Many groups that oppose the religious right’s agenda are having lobby days in Austin. A senator’s top aide told such a group recently that the senator is hearing only from the religious right and, if Texans do not support the religious right’s agenda, they had better let their representatives know.

If you can go to Austin to lobby or lobby in Houston, please consider doing it–legislators are courteous, the process is not intimidating, and, at the least, you are letting them know that there are other voices to be heard.



Churches Could Get Federal Housing
Funds Under Proposed Rule

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has proposed a rule that would allow houses of worship to receive federal housing money to buy, build or renovate portions of their facilities that are used for approved social services. Current rules ban housing subsidies of worship centers. Public comments will be accepted until March 7. The department will then review it for final approval.


Quote of the Month

“There is nothing quite as effective as meeting with your representatives, or their staff, expressing your interest and letting them know that you are watching their performance on pro-life, pro-family legislation.”

Texas Christian Coalition, Feb. 4, 2003.

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