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March 2003           Issue #96



Religious Right Agenda in Legislature


  • Rep. Kent Grusendorf, chair of the House Committee on Public Education, has filed a bill to create a private school voucher program in school districts with over 40,000 students where a majority is eligible for federal free or reduced priced lunches.  Rep. Ron Wilson has signed on as a joint author of the bill, HB 2465.  The committee will hold a public hearing on Wilson’s vouchers bill (HB 658) and possibly Grusendorf’s on Tuesday, March 18.


  • Some religious right supporters oppose a bill to cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits because, they say, it will encourage more doctors to perform abortions.  They reason that many ob-gyns who choose not to perform abortions due to high malpractice insurance premiums will change their practices if the caps result in lower premiums.


  • S.B. 319 and HB 246, dubbed the “Prenatal Protection Act,” would allow a person who harms or kills a fetus to be criminally prosecuted and to be sued by the fetus’ parents, unless the fetus’ death was the intended result of a legal medical procedure performed by a health care provider or a legal drug administration.  The Texas Christian

 Coalition is pushing for the “unborn baby” to “be recognized as a living human being.”



What Can I Do?


Call Texas House education committee members before Tuesday afternoon to urge a vote against all voucher bills, including HB 658 & 2465.  Dawson, Dutton, Eissler, and Hochberg (who opposes vouchers) are members from our area.  If you are a constituent, be sure to say so.  The others are Grusendorf, Griggs, Oliveira, Branch, and Madden.  The enclosed list has phone numbers of our area legislators.  All numbers are at .  A more extensive list with links to web sites is on Let Freedom Ring’s web site on the “Elected Officials” link at



Religious Right Agenda in Congress


  • The House of Representatives voted 241 to 155 to pass the Human Cloning Prohibition Act (H.R. 534) on February 26, three weeks after it was introduced.  Reps. Brady, Culberson, and DeLay voted for it.  Bell, Green, Jackson-Lee, Lampson, and Paul voted against it.  Sen. Cornyn is one of 27 cosponsors of the Senate version (S. 245).


  • The Senate passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (S.3).  Cornyn was a cosponsor.  The bill exempts procedures necessary to save a mother’s life but not to protect a woman’s health, although the U.S. Supreme Court deemed a Nebraska ban unconstitutional in part because it lacked such an exception.  The House is expected to adopt its version (H.R.760) soon.


  • Rep. Jones has introduced the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act (H.R.235) to amend the federal tax code to “to protect the religious free exercise and free speech rights of churches and other houses of worship.”  Jones’ bill differs from his 2001 Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act, which would have allowed houses of worship to participate in political campaigns.  Under his new bill, no church would be deemed to have participated in such campaigns “because of the content, preparation, or presentation of any homily, sermon, teaching, dialectic, or other presentation made during religious services or gatherings.”  It would not permit any disbursements for electioneering communications or political expenditures prohibited by federal campaign law.  Jones acknowledged that he (with help from the American Center for Law and Justice, which was founded by Pat Robertson) narrowed his bill’s focus to the issue of free speech to address concerns expressed about his first bill. 


  • Sen. Rick Santorum, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, reintroduced his version of Pres. Bush’s faith-based initiative, the Charity Aid, Recovery, and Empowerment Act of 2003 or the CARE Act of 2003 (S.272).  It has 11 bipartisan cosponsors.


  • The religious right has been excoriating Senate Democrats for their filibuster of the nomination of Miguel Estrada, nominated by Pres. Bush to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The RR has been highly critical of the Democrats’ handling of Bush’s most controversial judicial nominees since Bush took office.



Federal Guidelines on Prayer in School Issued

The U.S. Department of Education has issued “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” as required by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act education reform bill.  As a condition of receiving federal education funds, a local educational agency must certify that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools.


The guidance cites principles contained in U.S. Supreme Court decisions that distinguish impermissible governmental religious speech from constitutionally protected private religious speech of students.  It then applies those principles in particular contexts. 


The guidance says that schools cannot restrict a student’s religious expression at graduation, student assemblies and extracurricular events “where student speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression.”  Some are criticizing the guidance for implying that the legality of student-initiated prayer at school events has been settled when, in fact, federal courts have published conflicting decisions on that question.  The guidance is at



Religious Right Education Board Member to Become Chair


The Texas Senate confirmed Geraldine "Tincy" Miller as chair of the State Board of Education.  Miller, who has been on the board for almost 20 years, is part of the board’s religious right faction.  Her nomination by Gov. Perry drew opposition by some senators due to her role in last year’s defeat of board chair and moderate Republican Grace Shore by a religious right challenger.  In the end, 6 senators, including Mario Gallegos, voted against her nomination.  The Texas Eagle Forum called her confirmation a victory.  Miller’s term as chair will end in 2005.



Local Event




“Will the Wall Fall on the First Amendment?” speech by Dr. Paul Simmons, professor, Dept. of Family and Community Medicine, University of Louisville, and member of AU board of trustees. 



Event will be held at: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 5501 S. Main. 

Event will be held on: Tuesday  April 22, 2003  7:00 P.M.

Sponsor:  The Greater Houston Area Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 

Dinner: $25, $15 for students. 

RSVP: Required for dinner no later than Apr. 15.  F

Information or to RSVP: contact Charlotte Coffelt at 281-360-2506 or


Quote of the Month


"Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia.  It comes straight from the pit of hell. And it's cleverly disguised as having a tender heart.  It's not a tender heart.  It's ripping the heart out of this country."


Texas Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, in interview to El Paso Times, March 2003

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