Faith Commons

by Rabbi Nancy Kasten

Senate Bill 763 uses our tax dollars to reinforce dangerous White Christian Nationalist ideology.

The consequences to students on matters of moral dispute such as contraception, abuse, sexual orientation and gender identity will be profound.

Faith Commons is working alongside Texas Impact, Christians Against Christian Nationalism, and the Interfaith Alliance to mitigate the harm this bill can do. But we won’t be successful without you.

This month’s newsletter focuses on the implications of this bill and what you can do to help neutralize it.

The History of Discriminatory Policies in Schools

In the fall of 1957, nine black teenagers attempted to enter Central High, a whites-only public high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Governor Orval Faubus believed that a federal government and an understanding of the Constitution that required desegregation was unjust and anti-American. He deployed the National Guard to prevent the students from exercising their right to change the previously existing social, cultural, and economic hierarchy.

Faubus’s position was fortified by arguments made by prominent faith leaders in the South. The following excerpt from a letter written by R.A. Raney, a Missionary Baptist minister, explains why many believed segregation had to be maintained:

“… Desegregation or Integration has never been, during all time, the right of the Negro, or other Coloured races, to integrate or have social equality with the white races, and this condition was fixed by Almighty God. This matter is not subject to the will of the people, which has been proven by numerous Bible examples. So the only thing that will settle this matter is to let the races stay separate, as God made them, and as has been practiced through the ages.” (Source

Claiming that segregation was consistent with God’s law had its desired effect. While ultimately every state was forced to comply with federal desegregation orders, most public schools remain divided by race, ethnicity, and economic status to this day.

Here in Texas, discriminatory policies in schools and elsewhere continue to be justified through implicit and explicit religious arguments. These interpretations, like Pastor Raney’s, are rooted in a conviction that equal rights, civil rights, and human rights are not universal, and that God wants them to be withheld from some to protect the purity of others. Legislators proudly proclaim their faith credentials when defending dehumanizing and discriminatory policies.

Senate Bill 763

SB 763 moves these arguments straight from the State Capital into Texas public schools. Governor Abbott and other state lawmakers say the scourge of gun violence should be addressed through mental health treatment. Rather than funding the training of more mental health professionals, they have decided to fund untrained and unvetted religious chaplains to do the job.

A champion of SB 763, Rocky Malloy, has offered to train these chaplains through his National School Chaplain Association. While the website for NSCA does not refer to Christ or Christians, Mr. Malloy also founded and runs Mission Generation, whose mission is to proselytize in schools.

SB 763 may be a gift to those who believe the U.S. is a Christian country, but there are ways to reduce its impact. The bill requires every school district in Texas to decide by this spring whether they will permit religious chaplains to serve as school counselors in their district. This requirement means that school boards must put this issue on their agendas sometime in the next six months, creating the opportunity for public debate.

No doubt these boards will hear from people who defend their understanding of God’s law over and above U.S. law. The question is whether other people of faith, who believe God created each one of us with equal worth, and who believe it is our obligation to protect the rights of others through the law of the land, will show up with a different faith-based position.

In 1950’s Little Rock, a minority of faith leaders objected to the Governor’s position on desegregation.  Sixteen of them wrote a letter decrying “… the disregard for national law …” and “… the destruction of the respect of our citizens, young and old, for proper constitutional authority ….” (Source)

Those conscientious objectors were meager in number, but they were on the right side of history. Soon thereafter, faith-based arguments for equal civil and human rights, put forth by leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, prevailed. This led to the legal protection of those rights, even when they could not be guaranteed. Today in Texas and elsewhere, these safeguards are being systematically dismantled.

What You Can Do

The strength of our democracy depends on citizen engagement in public policy. While debate can be uncomfortable and even ugly, avoiding it has consequences. If you believe that replacing secular resources with religious resources in public schools is bad for religion, bad for our country, and bad for you, now is the time to express your opinion to your community and your elected officials.

“It is not your job to finish the work, but you are not free to absolve yourself of doing your part.” So said Rabbi Tarfon, a Jewish scholar who taught in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. As people of faith, we know that brokenness and suffering persist in the world, and that we are called to respond. Our response is to find from within all faith traditions those values that affirm the rights and universal dignity of all God’s children without discrimination.

If you are interested in defending the religious freedom that James Madison intended for our public schools, then sign up to be a Public School Defender. We also have one-pagers to help you talk to your school board about SB 763, and what qualified, professional school counselors do in public schools.