Texas Senate Passes Bill Requiring Ten Commandments in Classrooms and Bans DEI Policies in Higher Education

Texas public schools may soon be required to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom, according to a bill passed by the Texas Senate on Thursday.[0] Senate Bill 1515 will now head to the state House for consideration. Another bill passed by the Senate would require schools to make time and space available for all students and staff who wish to pray or read the Bible.[1] This latest attempt by Texas Republicans to inject religion into public schools follows a 2021 law requiring schools to display “In God We Trust” signs donated by community members.[2]

Critics of the Ten Commandments bill, including students and librarians, have expressed concerns about its true intentions: to target books that center on historically marginalized populations.[3] The Texas House also passed a bill that aims to ban sexually explicit materials from school libraries.[4] However, legal experts, librarians, and some parents are concerned that the bill’s language is vague and broad enough to ensnare books that are not inappropriate.[3]

If signed into law, both measures would likely face legal challenges, as has been the case throughout the decades-long effort by Christian activists to inject the Ten Commandments into courtrooms and schools.[5] The Supreme Court's ruling in Stone v. Graham in 1980 stated that a Kentucky law mandating schools to exhibit a replica of the Ten Commandments breached the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.[6]

Sen. King, who introduced the Ten Commandments bill, cited the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District as to why the path was clear to bring the Ten Commandments back into Texas classrooms.[7] He has described the Ten Commandments as being part of American heritage.[7] However, opponents argue that the bill violates the separation of church and state, and that it is the responsibility of parents, not schools, to discuss religion with their children.[8]

In addition to the Ten Commandments bill, the Senate passed a bill that would codify the Supreme Court’s ruling on Kennedy into law and protect the right of school employees to engage in religious speech or prayer while on duty.[9] Lieutenant Governor[10] Dan Patrick praised both bills as significant achievements for religious freedom in Texas.[9]

However, another bill passed by the Senate would ban diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies in public higher education institutions.[11] SB 17, “Banning Discriminatory DEI Policies in Higher Education,” filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, with 8 cosponsors, would prohibit public higher education institutions in Texas from establishing or maintaining DEI offices, officers, employees, or contractors that perform the duties of a DEI office.[12]

Critics argue that the bill would undermine academic freedom and open inquiry and impede the discovery, preservation, and transmission of knowledge. The bill would also prohibit these institutions from requiring or giving preferential consideration for certain ideological oaths or statements. SB 17 now heads to the state House for consideration.

Overall, these bills highlight the ongoing debate about the role of religion and diversity in public education in Texas and beyond. While supporters argue that they protect religious freedom and academic freedom, opponents argue that they risk violating the separation of church and state and undermining efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools and universities.

0. “Texas Senate passes bills allowing time for prayer in schools, requiring Ten Commandments in classrooms” FOX 4 News Dallas-Fort Worth, 22 Apr. 2023, https://www.fox4news.com/news/texas-senate-sb-1515-ten-commandments-school-prayer

1. “Is a Texas bill requiring the Ten Commandments in public schools bad for the state’s Jews?” Forward, 21 Apr. 2023, https://forward.com/fast-forward/544192/texas-bill-ten-commandments-public-schools-jews

2. “Texas Senate approves bills requiring 10 Commandments in classrooms” The Week, 21 Apr. 2023, https://theweek.com/texas/1022871/texas-senate-approves-bills-requiring-10-commandments-in-k-12-classrooms-bible-time

3. “Texas AFT :Recap: This Week at the Legislature” Texas AFT, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.texasaft.org/government/legislature/recap-this-week-at-the-legislature-3

4. “Texas Democrat Defends Her Book Ban Support” Newsweek, 20 Apr. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/texas-democrat-defends-her-book-ban-support-1795476

5. “Texas Republicans Seem Hell-Bent on Turning K–12 Schools Into Churches” Vanity Fair, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/04/texas-republican-turning-k-12-schools-into-churches

6. “Ten Commandments in Texas public schools? SB 1515 moves to House” San Antonio Express-News, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.expressnews.com/politics/article/texas-senate-ten-commandments-17911409.php

7. “Texas bill would require Ten Commandments in public school classrooms” The Washington Post, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/04/21/texas-bill-ten-commandments-public-schools-religion

8. “Texas Public Schools Would Have To Display Ten Commandments Under New Bill” Local Profile, 21 Apr. 2023, https://localprofile.com/2023/04/21/texas-schools-display-ten-commandments/

9. “Texas advances bill requiring 10 Commandments to be displayed in public school classrooms” Fox News, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.foxnews.com/media/texas-advances-bill-requiring-10-commandments-displayed-public-school-classrooms

10. “Ban on Tenure for New Faculty Hires Passes Texas Senate” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 Apr. 2023, https://www.chronicle.com/article/ban-on-tenure-for-new-faculty-hires-passes-texas-senate

11. “NCAA: Texas votes in favor of bill banning diversity” AS USA, 21 Apr. 2023, https://en.as.com/ncaa/ncaa-texas-votes-in-favor-of-bill-banning-diversity-v/?outputType=amp

12. “Texas Senate passes bill that would ban higher education institutions from implementing DEI policies” The Center Square, 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.thecentersquare.com/texas/article_307124ec-e069-11ed-8e2f-ebeed49b8b11.html

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