June 2003 Issue #99
Religious Right Agenda in Legislature
The legislature ended its session having enacted the religious right’s top two priorities—the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars recognition of a same-sex marriage or civil union, and the Prenatal Protection Act, which creates civil and criminal penalties for harming “an unborn child” from “fertilization until birth.” The religious right had sought passage of both laws for years. The religious right also scored victories with bills requiring public school students to recite daily the pledges of allegiance to the U.S. and Texas flags and observe a minute of silence and requiring “informed consent” and a 24-hour waiting period before abortions.
The religious right did not get everything they wanted. A bill to authorize the State Board of Education to adopt general textbook content standards and reject textbooks that do not comply with those standards passed the House but was not voted on in the Senate. (This would have given the Board, which has a religious right majority, license to reject books for ideological reasons.) Bills to create vouchers programs for public schools, ban cloning, require parental consent to a minor’s abortion, and require the issuance of “Choose Life” license plates to fund organizations that provide counseling and assistance to women considering adoption placement did not pass, although each was passed by a House committee. Bills to disqualify unmarried individuals and homosexuals and bisexuals from serving as foster parents and barring gay couples from adopting children did not make it out of committee in either chamber.
Gov. Perry and House Speaker Craddick, who favor vouchers, predict that legislators will try to pass a vouchers bill during a special session the governor plans to call to address public school financing.
Religious Right Agenda in Congress
Bush Administration Takes New Steps
To offer Federal Funds To Churches
The Bush Administration continues to change federal policies and rules to allow religious institutions more access to federal funds. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration recently announced the availability of job training grants for small faith-based and community-based non-profit organizations. The grants were designed to implement Bush’s 2001 executive order that the department identify barriers to “effective faith-based and community initiatives” and ensure that such organizations “have equal opportunity to compete for federal funding.”
The grant notice's wording about the application of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause was changed after it was published. The original notice, published April 4, said, “These grants may not be used for instruction in religion or sacred literature, worship, prayer, proselytizing or other inherently religious practices. The services provided under these grants must be secular and non-ideological.” Two weeks later, the notice was amended to delete the words “or sacred literature” and the second sentence.
The Interior Secretary announced a change in governmental policy that will allow historic properties used for religious purposes to receive federal preservation grants. Boston’s Old North Church, where lanterns signaled to Paul Revere the arrival of British troops, will receive money to help restore its windows. The Old North Church was designated a historic landmark in 1961. It still houses a congregation. A foundation that is legally separate from the church will administer the grant, and the church is expected to raise an equal amount from private sources.
The policy barring active religious institutions from receiving federal preservation money had been in place since the late 1970's because of concerns about the separation of church and state. A Justice Department legal opinion issued in 1995 formalized the policy. Federal funds have paid for renovations at some religious sites that are no longer used as houses of worship. Federal funds also pay for the upkeep of 24 active churches on national park properties.
Interior Secretary Norton said the change "ends a discriminatory double standard" and opens the way for churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions to apply for funds. H. James Towey, director of the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said that religious applicants for federal preservation grants must meet the same criteria as secular groups, including showing that their facility is nationally significant, urgently needs repair, has educational value, and confers a public benefit. He gave several examples, such as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where a 1963 bombing killed four girls; Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, the nation's oldest synagogue; and the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, the nation's oldest cathedral.
Three Groups Plan Voter Registration Sundays
The Christian Coalition of America, National Pro-life Religious Council and Priests for Life designated four Sundays in 2003 and 2004 as “National Christian Voter Registration Sundays.” The aim is to encourage pastors "to preach to their congregations the responsibility every citizen has to register and vote.” Priests for Life is an international association of Catholic clergy who offer help to clergy "in addressing abortion and euthanasia" and training and resources to the entire “pro-life” movement. The religious right has attained much legislative success by registering and getting supporters to vote.
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