June 2001 Issue #75
Religious Right Agenda in the Legislature
The religious right had little success in promoting its legislative agenda during this session. The Texas Eagle Forum called it the "homosexual-rights session." It cited the passage of a hate crimes law that included language about sexual orientation and a provision backing hate crimes curriculum in public schools and the passage by committees of laws to ban discrimination in public schools based on a student’s sexual orientation and to repeal the sodomy law. Among other issues high on the religious right’s legislative agenda:
The Defense of Marriage Act, to prohibit the state from recognizing or validating a same-sex marriage or civil union, was the top priority of many religious right groups. The Senate approved it and the House did not vote on it.
Some school vouchers bills were offered but they did not get out of committee.
The Prenatal Protection Act (to create penalties for the death of or injury to "an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth") did not come up for a vote in either chamber. Several other bills to restrict abortions died in committee.
A bill to allow covenant marriages fell short.
The Texas Christian Coalition, calling redistricting "perhaps the most important issue of the legislative session," charged that the plan adopted by the House was unfair and unjust because it "seeks to protect leftist incumbents and some rural Republicans … at the expense of the conservative grassroots." The bill died when the Senate did not vote on it.
Religious Right Agenda in Congress
In debates on the
federal education bills, both the U.S. House and the Senate rejected
vouchers proposals in votes that did not follow strict party lines. Sens.
Gramm and Hutchison and Reps. Brady, Culberson, and DeLay voted for
vouchers. Reps. Bentsen, Green, Jackson-Lee, Lampson, and Paul voted against
The House and Senate
both adopted the "Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act.'' It denies
federal funds to any public elementary or secondary school or local or state
educational agency that has a designated open forum and discriminates
against the Boy Scouts in providing equal access to school premises or
facilities due to the Scouts’ position on homosexuality. Sen. Helms, who
offered the Scout amendment, joined other Republicans voting against a
similar amendment offered by Sen. Boxer that would bar denial of fair access
to any youth group listed in the U.S. Code as a patriotic society, including
the Scouts, based on that group's favorable or unfavorable position on
sexual orientation. Boxer’s amendment passed 52 to 47.
The House rejected an amendment to the State Department authorization bill that would have removed restrictions imposed by President Bush on U.S. foreign aid to family planning providers in developing countries. The restrictions, originally initiated by President Reagan and called the Mexico City policy or the "global gag rule," deny funding for any family planning services to groups that use their own funds for abortion-related services, including counseling. Reps. Brady, Culberson, DeLay, and Paul voted to keep the restrictions. Bentsen, Green, Jackson-Lee, and Lampson voted to end them.
The new tax bill did
not include Bush’s wish to extend the charitable contribution deduction to
all taxpayers. In what the religious right see as a step toward vouchers, it
did raise the annual limit of contributions to an education savings account
and, for the first time, allow funds in the accounts to be used for expenses
at elementary and secondary schools.
U.S. Supreme Court Actions on Church-State Separation
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule on an appellate court decision that a Ten Commandments monument on a city hall’s front lawn violates the separation of church and state. The Court does not release justices’ votes on whether or not to take a case but three justices took the unusual step of issuing a statement saying they wanted to hear it. Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for Justices Scalia and Thomas, wrote, "To be sure, the Ten Commandments are a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths…Undeniably, however, the Commandments have secular significance as well, because they have made a substantial contribution to our secular legal codes." The monument and surrounding structures "convey that the monument is part of the city's celebration of its cultural and historical roots, not a promotion of religious faith. …Considered in that setting, the monument …simply reflects the Ten Commandments' role in the development of our legal system."
issued a statement in response. He noted that the monument begins with the
lines, "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS -- I AM the LORD thy God," which appears in a
larger type size than the rest of the Commandments. "The graphic emphasis
placed on those first lines," Stevens said, "is rather hard to square with
the proposition that the monument expresses no particular religious
The Supreme Court
ruled 6-3 that a public school district that allowed community groups to
meet at its school building after class hours violated the free speech
rights of a Christian youth group that it excluded from meeting there. In
Good News Club Et Al. V. Milford Central School, the district had denied the
club’s request to meet in the school on the ground that the proposed use was
the equivalent of religious worship prohibited by the district’s community
use policy. The Court held that the district discriminated against the club
because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause.
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