In week full of religious liberty skirmishes at the Texas Capitol, we would be remiss if we did not flag the most ridiculous church-state proposal we’ve seen this session: HCR 58 by state Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton — a publicity stunt masquerading as a House Concurrent Resolution. The resolution concludes:
RESOLVED, That the 83rd Legislature of the State of Texas hereby support prayers, including the use of the word “God,” at public gatherings as well as displays of the Ten Commandments in public educational institutions and other government buildings.
In other words, Rep. Stephenson is asking his fellow legislators to join him in promoting divisive and unconstitutional practices.
There are plenty of problems with this resolution — its embrace of a flawed, David Barton-esque version of US History, a clear hostility toward any Texan who doesn’t share Rep. Stephenson’s mono-theistic faith, promoting nakedly partisan talking points from the Texas GOP platform. But we’ll limit our criticism to the obvious. The resolution calls for activities already ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. As recently as 2005 (in McCreary County, Ky. v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky), the court ruled that displays of the Ten Commandments of the type described in this resolution violate the Constitution. The reason is obvious — such displays advance a religious purpose; they promote a particular religion.
While a concurrent resolution like this does not carry any statutory force, it could still be legal problematic in its effect. Language like this could encourage schools or other governmental institutions to post religious displays that violate Constitutional protections for religious freedom. And result in costly litigation.
HCR 58 was considered by the House State Affairs Committee earlier this afternoon. We’ll have a report from the hearing soon.