November 2001 Issue #80
Gov. Perry Endorses Organized Praying in Schools
Gov. Rick Perry has condoned leading students in prayer in public schools and will make legalizing organized prayer a campaign issue in 2002. He stated his position after attending a program with students that was concluded by a minister praying “in Jesus’ name.” The program was held at a Palestine middle school during school hours. The school’s principal said Palestine Sen. Todd Staples, who organized the event, made the decision to include a prayer. "I have not seen anything that says it is not (legal)," Staples said.
Perry told the Austin American-Statesman he wants courts to allow organized prayer in public schools. "Why not?" he said. "They took it out. They can sure put it back in." Asked if he will make it a campaign issue, Perry responded, “Absolutely. I mean who is going to be against that?"
Perry remarked that he does not “understand the logic” of organized prayer being barred in public schools, noting that Congress and the Texas Senate start sessions with a prayer. “Why we can't say a prayer at a football game or at a patriotic event like we held at Palestine, I just don't understand."
Tony Sanchez, running for governor as a Democrat, wants children “to be allowed to pray in school” but does not want them “to be coerced and forced and intimidated." He supports a mandatory moment of silence in schools. John WorldPeace, the other announced Democratic candidate, believes that school districts can “set aside a moment for God if they desire” but the legislature cannot mandate anything. He would allow prayers to God that do not support a particular religion but, if a district “violated any state laws by acknowledging God,” he “would pardon them and thus effectively stop their prosecution under state law” while he was governor.
Religious Right Groups Successfully Challenge Textbooks
The State Board of Education’s evaluation of textbooks became a battleground once again as religious right groups challenged environmental science textbooks. The Free Market Foundation urged the Board to reject three books being considered for high schools because they “espouse radical environmentalist propaganda such as global warming, population control, and strong anti-capitalism, anti-free-market, and anti-American viewpoints.” A spokesperson for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the books were "full of vitriol against Western civilization." Several speakers at the hearings criticized the books as anti-Christian. By law, the Board can reject books only for factual errors, not for content. The Texas Education Agency did not find any factual errors in the books. Science teachers, environmental groups, and the State Education Commissioner recommended them.
The Board voted on party lines to reject one book. It rejected another but then approved it after the publisher agreed to make some changes.
Mandatory Moment of Silence May Come to Texas Schools
The U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear a case challenging a Virginia law that requires public schools to set aside 60 seconds each day for students to "meditate, pray or engage in other silent activity." An appellate court had upheld the law by 2-1. The next day, San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth announced that he intends to file a bill during the next legislative session that would direct school districts to set aside a minute of silence each day for prayer or meditation. The Court’s action “opens the door for reflection, meditation and prayer in Texas schools," he said.
In the Virginia case, the plaintiffs had contended that the law was meant to put state-sanctioned prayer back in public schools. The Supreme Court did not state why it chose not to take the appeal so its action was not a ruling on the law’s merits. The Court invalidated a similar Alabama law in 1985 because legislators had enacted it to circumvent judicial bans on school-sponsored prayer.
Local Religious Right Group Works to Politicize Pastors
Vision America is a local group that hopes to play a larger role on the local and national political scene. It has launched an initiative called Vision Texas “to mobilize Pastors and their congregations into the moral and civil arena.” The effort began with a briefing with Gov. Perry and 30 Texas pastors, including Ed Young of Houston’s Second Baptist Church, and Christian leaders “designed to help a small group of pastors to better understand the way legislative decisions impact key moral issues.” Afterwards, Vision America president Rick Scarborough said, “It is impossible to separate church from state because WE THE PEOPLE - THE PEOPLE OF GOD- ARE THE CHURCH.”
Vision America has begun holding policy briefings around the state urging pastors to “network hundreds of thousands of Christians across the state to become well informed and active citizens.” The group plans to begin in January to systematically identify and register conservative Christians by the hundreds of thousands. In March, it will initiate a statewide “Get Out The Vote” campaign using multi-media, direct mail, and the pulpit as pastors “are encouraged to model and promote Christian citizenship” before the primaries. Scarborough says it will repeat this process leading up to the fall election. Vision America’s goal is to move at least one million new Christian voters into the process. Scarborough claims the group will not endorse candidates but “will endeavor to clarify what each candidate believes on specific moral issues believing that 90% of the time Christians will vote for the candidate who best reflects their core values if they are given enough information to make an informed decision.”
Vision America was started in 1998 by Scarborough, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pearland, who serves as the group’s president and national co-chair. Its mission is “to inform, encourage and mobilize pastors and their congregations to be proactive in restoring Judeo-Christian values to the moral and civic framework in their communities, states, and our nation.” Dr. Laurence L. White, the other national co-chair, is the senior pastor of Houston’s Our Savior Lutheran Church. White is a founder and the current chair of the Greater Houston Area Pastor’s Roundtable, an organization designed to support “pro-life, pro-family organizations” like Focus on the Family, Center for Reclaiming America, and Concerned Women for America, and he serves on the National Advisory Board of the Family Research Council. Vision America’s advisory board includes Jerry Falwell, Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, Paul Weyrich of Free Congress Foundation, former Texas judge Paul Pressler, and broadcaster Dan Patrick.
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