Late on Thursday, the Texas Senate approved a bill that would require public schools throughout the state to prominently display the Ten Commandments in every classroom. The legislation now heads to the state House of Representatives. The Republican lawmaker who authored the bill noted that his new legislation comes in direct response to the Supreme Court’s decision last June in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.
In that case, the justices sided with a high school football coach who was conducting prayers with students during and after games and threw out the Lemon Test, which was previously used to evaluate whether legislation violates the Establishment Clause.
“This legislation only became legally feasible with the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Lemon test,” King said at the committee hearing. “I think this would be a good healthy step for Texas to bring back this tradition of recognizing America’s religious heritage.”
The Lemon test, for the uninitiated, says for a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the law must (1) have a legitimate secular purpose, (2) not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and (3) not result in an excessive entanglement of government and religion. It was named after Alton Lemon, the lead plaintiff in a case against David Kurtzman which was a major precedent in federal and local courts until it was effectively overturned in 2022.
Another bill passed in the Texas state Senate on Thursday would allow school districts to require campuses to provide a “period of prayer and reading of the Bible or other religious text on each school day.”
“Allowing the Ten Commandments and prayer back into our public schools is one step we can take to make sure that all Texans have the right to freely express their sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. “Bringing the Ten Commandments and prayer back to our public schools will enable our students to become better Texans.”
Last Wednesday, the Texas Senate approved a bill that would largely restrict how the state’s public universities can promote equitable access to higher education and cultivate diversity among students, faculty and staff. The legislation would require universities to close their diversity, equity and inclusion offices, which have become a mainstay on campuses across the country as schools try to boost faculty diversity and help students from all backgrounds succeed. The bill would also ban mandatory diversity training and restrict hiring departments from asking for diversity statements, essays in which job applicants talk about their commitment to building diverse campuses.
The bill would require university system boards of regents, who are appointed by the governor, to create policies to discipline or even fire employees who participate in any efforts to foster diversity. Universities that violate the law could lose state funds for a year. The legislation would also allow students and employees to sue schools if they’re forced to participate in any DEI training.
All of this begs the question: What is going on in Texas? And, for that matter, around the nation? The Texas bills are among the wave of proposed legislation in states with Republican-controlled legislatures that are reshaping how schools discuss gender, diversity and religion.