Friday, February 02, 2007

Texas Mess

Texas State Senator Dan Patrick, author of the Christian bestseller, The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read, has published a press release announcing that the Texas State Senate unanimously approved the "Patrick Resolution" (SR 141). This bill requires the State Preservation Society to permanently affix the phrase, "In God We Trust" above the Lt. Governors podium.

The Atheist Community of Austin has published their own press release, admonishing the senate and the 80th Texas legislature for their authorship and support of this bill.

There are a few points about this situation that absolutely astonished me. First, I was surprised to learn that the Texas House of Representatives passed a similar resolution last week, by a vote of 142-3. (The Representatives voting against this resolution were; Donna Howard, Lon Burnman and Garnet Coleman.) Second, I was amazed that while all of this information was available online, it took a bit of digging to get to it. The press release regarding the Senate resolution didn't come from the Senate, it came from the office of Senator Patrick. If Senator Patrick hadn't mentioned the house resolution in his press release, many of us might not have known about it.

But the biggest surprise was the the Senate vote was unanimous. It's a bit disheartening to learn that every one of our State Senators thinks that divisive statements of faith, as official actions of the legislature, are a good idea. Someone out there is thinking, "You live in Texas! What did you expect?!" That's a sentiment I generally understand - but living in Austin has made me a bit more optimistic about Texas. A single 'no' vote, as a sign that there's some hope, would have been nice.

As I pointed out in the ACA press release, the author of this bill has made it clear that it serves no secular purpose and is, as far as I can tell, a violation of the Constitutions of both Texas and The United States. While most people consider this bill a 'good thing' or, at worst, 'no big deal', I think it's time that we challenge legislation like this - and a direct appeal to reverse the mistakes of the McCarthy error and restore the original national motto, is long overdue as well.

In the past, I've wavered on whether or not challenging "Under God" in the pledge or "In God We Trust" on our money was really a good idea. I was certain that they both needed to be changed, but I wasn't certain that these were necessarily the best fights to pick. I'm now convinced that these are exactly the right fights.

The Texas State Constitution has the following statement in its Bill of Rights:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being."

We know that this is a violation of the U.S Constitution; a uninamous decision by the Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins established that quite firmly. So why does it still appear in the Texas Constitution? Because no one has bothered to push for its removal - we recognize the passage is irrelevant, so it's just not worth the bother.

Unfortunately, everyone isn't up to speed on the finer points of law. Which means that this unconstitutional piece of nonsense still serves a purpose - it's trotted out to support various myths about the religious nature of our government. It is a way of reenforcing a bias to those who won't bother to investigate.

It's right there, in black and white and it's time we changed that.


  1. The Texas constitution is so restrictive that many laws have to be passed as amendments to that constitution. It's now such a huge set of documents that re-writing it to remove certain sections is not very likely. I vaguely recall the professor from a Texas Government class I took at UT saying that several proposals for reform/rewrite had come up, but none gained sufficient traction.

    So, I'm not surprised that that wording remains in the constitution. The prohibition amendment is technically still part of the US constitution, even though it was repealed by a later amendment. At best we could hope for such a repeal in the Texas constitution, but considering the non-event that the congress's latest resolutions were seen as by most Texans, I doubt such an amendment would even be proposed, much less have a snowball's chance in hell of passing.

  2. Unfortunately, you may be right.

    I'm not overly optimistic, but I can no longer just sit by and shrug this stuff off. I've got to push for change, even if it never happens.

  3. I loved the press release. I'm glad it's posted to the ACA site.

  4. Well done, Matt. This is political God-pandering of the most meretricious sort. These are people looking to get themselves re-elected by being able to say "I voted to recognize God" in their next campaign. It's depressing that the average voter is so shallow that this kind of whoring works for them. Who cares if the senate actually does anything to improve Texas's education, economy, what have you? They put God in the Capital and that's good enough!

  5. Believers should expect to be challenged (doesn't the bible say so?). The challenge should be: "Do you believe the Constitution is just a piece of paper, or something more? If it's something more, then what is it exactly?"

    And no lettin' 'em wriggle off the hook!


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