Tax Exempt Status and the Privilege of Churches

“What I would say to the churches is be bold and challenge them and say in our church we’re still going to discuss good and evil and what we think of it, and so be it if the government wants to come and challenge us because if we don’t stand up and try and protect our God-given rights they’re going to be taken from us.”

Rand Paul to CBN host David Brody

Listening to Rand Paul’s latest appeal to Christian church pastors to speak out on political matters, you would think American churches are embroiled in a spiritual war with the federal government. Are pastors being threatened by the IRS on pain of death to keep silent when it comes to endorsing political candidates or causes? Have they been drug into the street, had their family and homes taken from them? No.

What Rand Paul is attempting to doing here is to re-frame this issue away from the truth. Rand Paul needs churches to feel like they are victims, so he is framing a new ‘truth’ so they will be free to play that role. He wants us all to believe that churches are being suppressed by not being able to take positions on political matters. The truth is that churches are completely, 100% free to take positions in politics – but there is a cost.

In an agreement with the American people, through the law of the United States for 501(c)3 organizations, churches have been given the benefit of operating as non-profit entities, which means they do not have to pay taxes on the money they bring in. In the agreement to receive this benefit there are some costs for churches. One of those costs is not being able to take positions on political matters. This restriction is not unique to churches; all non-profits are prohibited from taking positions on political matters. It is a perfectly reasonable system that distinguishes between organizations that want to exercise political power or make a profit (which must pay taxes) and those that want to operate for the benefit of a community and not make a profit (which do not have to pay taxes).

This is a simple cost / benefit proposition. For this benefit there is this cost. That’s life in the real world. Every benefit has a cost. If churches are no longer happy with the cost, they are perfectly free to give up the benefits of being non-profit organizations, and they can pay taxes on the money they bring in (which is a substantial amount for some churches, but enough to at least maintain a building for most).

The really sad thing here is the privilege, dishonesty and immaturity of the American conservative Christian culture that is being exposed. Churches have actually enjoyed greater privilege than other non-profits in America. While all other non-profits of the 501(c)3 classification have been required to submit tax filings every year, to prove that their income is being spent as they claim it is, this filing requirement has not been enforced on churches. But even with this added privilege, the churches are not willing to stand up to their side of the agreement with the American people that allows them to be tax-exempt. They act as if they deserve this privilege and even more, and if it is denied to them they will act like five year-olds and throw a fit.

The best thing the secular community can do in regard to this growing movement for churches to wield political power is to rationally point out the truth of the matter: being tax-exempt is a benefit that comes with the cost of not taking political positions, and if churches want to take positions on these political matters, they are perfectly free to give up their tax exempt status. The end.

Dan Patrick Huffs and Puffs at CSCOPE Users

Dan Patrick calls everybody a poopoo head.

Dan Patrick calls everybody a poopoo head.

State Sen. Dan Patrick doesn’t like poopoo heads! Poopoo heads are mean and do things he doesn’t like! And he is totally going to tell on them and get them in trouble.

But seriously, Dan Patrick is acting like a six year-old. He said CSCOPE is bad. He doesn’t have any evidence – but who are you to demand evidence? – it’s bad! In his underdeveloped mind, because Dan Patrick doesn’t like CSCOPE, everybody should listen to him and do what he says. And if you as a school district or teacher are so brazen as to disobey the commandments of Dan Patrick and continue to use CSCOPE lessons, well he is going to sic the Attorney General on you.

CSCOPE is a system of lesson plans produced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) meant to supplement textbooks. The lesson plans provide activities for students to learn materials required by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum outside of the usually dry context of textbooks. These plans have been used by about 70% of Texas school districts since 2006.

Toward the end of 2012 some reactionary conservative types began to question three of the lesson plans in the Social Studies category. They claimed these lesson plans were anti-American and pro-Islam. From what we can tell, however, when they claim a lesson was pro-Islam, what they meant was that the lesson presented the precepts of Islam (as required by TEKS) without also noting how its claims are false and it is evil. And when they claimed a lesson was anti-American, what they meant was the lesson dared to question whether every action ever taken by the United States has been moral and right.

The people making these accusations seem to believe the United States belongs to the Christian God and all her activities have been ordained by that god. To these people, to question either god or country is a high crime. To these people, well rounded critical thinking skills threaten their worldview.

Eventually they got the attention of Sen. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Greg Abbott. Dan Patrick was the Chairperson of the Senate Education Committee during this past legislative session. He began a witch hunt against CSCOPE based on the claims about these three lessons. After much accusation and little evidence, TEA folded to the political pressure and agreed to stop producing CSCOPE lesson plans. Bills meant to stop CSCOPE were filed toward the end of the legislative session. Senate Bill 1406, passed during the regular session this year, requires any “curriculum management system [developed] by a regional education service center” to be reviewed by the SBOE. This is simply a state level administrative requirement and provides no penalty for the use of any such material by a school district. Since CSCOPE has shut down and the lessons have been put into the public domain, it does not seem to be part of such a system any longer.

With CSCOPE shut down, many small school districts have found themselves without supporting lesson plans as they near the Fall 2013 semester, and having to divert funds from other school programs to pay for new lesson plans. Because of this, TEA has made the CSCOPE lesson plans available in the public domain, and many smaller school districts have decided to continue using them.

When the SBOE noted that they did not have the power to stop local school districts from using the materials of their choice, Dan Patrick huffed and puffed and threaten to sue anyone who continues to use them; or, he volunteered Attorney General Greg Abbot to sue them, at least.

This is how a six year-old acts. A six year old says something and expects everybody to do it. A grown adult who wants to be Lieutenant Governor of Texas would have a legal basis for the demands he is making before threatening to have the Attorney General go after them, but not Dan Patrick. It doesn’t seem to matter much to him that there are no laws being broken by school districts or teachers that use CSCOPE lessons plans. No legislation has been passed outlawing them.

So what is Dan Patrick’s plan? It’s either super secret or he doesn’t have one.

The 2014 election landscape is beginning to take shape. With current Attorney General Greg Abbot as the likely Republican candidate for Governor, and Dan Patrick as the likely candidate for Lieutenant Governor combined with Texas’ penchant for only electing Republicans to statewide office, this is a worrisome scenario. It is not clear what Abbot’s position on this situation is, but if he does not want to spend his possible first term as governor of Texas chasing around Dan Patrick’s witch hunts, then he is going to need to put a stop to this. On the other hand, if the Abbot and Patrick duo can work up this frenzy into a mess of Todd-Aiken-esque sound bites, it might provide Texas with a very interesting election season.

Dan Patrick is throwing a bit of a temper-tantrum right now. He isn’t getting his way and he’ll throw down with some kicking and screaming if he has to. Secular Texas has drafted a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott to inquire as to his intentions. With any luck Dan Patrick will get sent to bed early with no dessert.

Do we need more evidence of the war on women in Texas?

Tampon Confiscation

Tampon Confiscation

If you haven’t already witnessed the outrage on the news, Twitter (#tampongate), or Rachel Maddow’s blog, let me fill you in quickly on the actions of the Texas DPS this past Friday at the Texas Capitol. Upon entering the Senate Gallery to observe the hearing on House Bill 2, Texas Department of Public Service Officers, who serve as security for the Capitol building, were searching the bags of those entering. By itself, this isn’t that big of a deal. Liquids and food are not allowed in the gallery because it is historic and they want to protect it. What is not understandable is what else DPS Officers were confiscating upon entrance: tampons and maxi-pads. Yes. Security officers were taking and disposing of feminine hygiene products upon entry of the Senate Gallery. This meant that women currently menstruating, about 20% of women at any given time, and women soon expecting to be menstruating, another 10% of women, were DENIED access to the Senate Gallery unless they were willing to sacrifice their personal hygiene.

Through the debate the last six weeks over the attempt by Texas’ religious conservatives to impose their personal religious convictions on Texas by restricting access to abortion services, I have avoided any reference to this being a ‘war on women’, as has so often been proclaimed, because I understood how it could simply be an ideological disagreement. That is, until this moment. This is when I realized I was wrong. It was suddenly made clear that Texas is waging a war on women.

The incident on Friday was either an outright attack on women or criminal disregard for the rights of women in order to protect the pride of the all-male leadership in Texas. But let’s be clear, either way it is evidence of a war against women. From the mounting evidence, including Perry’s recent veto of a bill that would guarantee equal pay for women, it is becoming more obvious that what is going on in Texas is purposeful.

To cynically use the normal and natural processes of the female body as a tool to keep as many women as possible from participating in and observing their own government shows not only the contempt in which the leaders of Texas hold women, but also the fear they have of them. One would be hard pressed to find another example of the disdain and hatred that can be expressed toward women in the last few years without turning to the ever-present, barbaric teachings of Leviticus, which religious conservatives claim still to follow.

It is an amazing testament to the spirit of the women of Texas fighting for their rights that the Senate Gallery was still filled with women, despite this attack on them. As a male Texan, watching this story unfold broke my heart, and inflated my already growing disappointment in our state. However, the courage and strength displayed by the women at the Capitol filled me with hope at the same time.

Reports from those at the Capitol on Friday claim Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) put a stop to the confiscations. We are not sure how this happened or what was said, but we are thankful for his actions.

In an attempt to cover-up their obvious guilt, the Texas DPS has released two separate stories to justify their actions. First, the DPS claimed they intercepted information that a protest was planned to throw feminine hygiene products from the gallery. Even if this were true, which is hard to believe considering there has been no evidence brought forward of such a protest being planned, there is a line that one cannot cross as an officer of the law. We do not sacrifice the Constitution of the United States, with the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guaranteeing equal treatment under the law for all citizens, to ensure that David Dewhurst isn’t embarrassed. Even if one thousand maxi-pads had been thrown from the gallery, the results would have been minimal (picking them up) compared to the unconstitutional attack on women the DPS undertook.

Later on in the day the DPS added to their story and claimed that they had confiscated “bottles of urine” and “jars of feces” that some attempted to bring into the Senate Gallery (once again, no evidence of this being true has come forward; including no Twitter images of feces or urine confiscation and no knowledge of feces or urine confiscation by the DPS officers doing the searches), throwing into the middle that this is why they were confiscating tampons and maxi-pads. Adding another false reason to an already false reason does not add up to a reason to violate constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In the end there is absolutely no excuse for the actions of the DPS and Texas leadership. This was either a cynical and outright attack on the women of Texas or a brilliant demonstration of the criminal lack of concern or compassion for Texas women and their rights. Either way, the attack is equally as damaging to women and our State. If the DPS and the leaders of Texas cannot see the truth of this then they need to take a step back from their positions of power, which they are currently using as a tool of abuse, and seriously examine the unchecked privilege in which they operate.

The DPS should be ashamed and the leaders of Texas should be ashamed. That is if they are capable of feeling shame for such actions. It is growing increasingly obvious, however, that they are not. After Friday, this war against women does not seem to be an accident. It does not seem to be a simple misunderstanding over differing ideologies. This specific attack against women seems to have been a targeted and obvious attempt to remove women from the political process and possibly revealing the desire by the all-male leadership in Texas to return Texas to the days when men had exclusive access to power and an exclusive voice in public policy.

We, as Texans, need to take the necessary actions to not only guarantee the rights of women in Texas, and their access to the political process, but to ensure that we have more women who are willing to stand up to this abuse of privilege in positions of power in our State.

It’s About Power

It is a very warm summer day as people begin filing into the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Austin, Texas on June 13, 2013. I’m here early, so I have already filled out my witness card and submitted Secular Texas’ written testimony to the clerk. There are several people taking pictures, including me, because it is an interesting scene. The high ceiling boasts large chandeliers. They add superfluous light to the sun coming in from large windows on two sides of the balcony. People are chatting as they began to ring the chamber. The chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Senator Jane Nelson, welcomes everyone and comments positively on how many people are here to testify.

However, the congenial atmosphere belies the reason so many people have come to give testimony on Senate bills 5, 13, 18, and 24 all of which relate to abortion regulation. Planned Parenthood is represented in force this day by women dressed in 1960s styled clothing. It feels like I accidentally wandered onto a movie set. They are smiling, being photographed, and seem to enjoy being in costume. But these ladies are not dressed like June Cleaver to feel glamorous. They, like me, are here because they are angry and fearful that the Texas legislature will pass yet another law that will interfere with their reproductive decisions. In 2011, Texas passed a bill that requires women to have a sonogram, transvaginally if necessary, to hear the heartbeat of the fetus before an abortion can be performed. There is no glamor in the testimony we are about to hear.

The hearing starts with the formal introduction of the bills. Then Sen. Royce West begins to question Sen. Glenn Hegar who introduced SB 5. This bill would make abortion illegal after twenty weeks. The premise of the bill is that there is scientific evidence that shows that a fetus can feel pain at twenty weeks. Similar bills have been introduced in other states and in Washington DC. Royce wants to know if Hegar understands that there are no findings in peer reviewed scientific research that a fetus can feel pain at twenty weeks. Hegar finally answers in the affirmative, but that there is also a “body of evidence”, he says, that suggests otherwise. Royce asks for specific examples. In fact, the research that is used to claim that fetuses are capable of feeling pain is actually research on reflex to noxious stimuli and doesn’t conclude a fetus can feel pain. Royce points out that one scientist has objected to the way his research has been misused to pass a similar bill in Arkansas, and that bill is now tied up in court. Hegar can only respond that there is a “body of evidence” he has submitted to the committee. He uses this phrase repeatedly, suggesting that the specifics of his research are either weak or non-existent. 

The hearing is getting dry, but the women have yet to testify. Royce also asks if Hegar is aware that a very similar bill passed in Arizona was just struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Hegar thinks that his bill is not the same as the Arizona bill, and should be reviewed on its own merits. Finally, Senator Judith Zaffirini asks Hegar why the psychological health of the mother is not included as an exception. Hegar’s answer is shocking. He says that a woman may very well commit suicide because she is denied an abortion, but that is not a serious enough reason to include exceptions for psychological health in the bill.

Finally, the people who will be affected by this legislation, the women of Texas, get a chance to speak. One woman affiliated with a national pro-life organization informs the committee that she supports the legislation because it is an effort to restrict abortion rights. “We are trying to limit access to abortion,” she says. There are no serious objections to this characterization of bills that have been touted as being about the safety of women in Texas. Another tells the senators that she had a back alley abortion in 1959 because her father got her pregnant. Suddenly, the 1960s costumes look different in the glare of her testimony. She can’t believe that, as a society, we are revisiting this issue in 2013. 

Then there is testimony from a woman that gets to the heart of the problem with SB 5. It is at the twenty week point in pregnancy that doctors are able to run tests and determine if the baby may have any serious health problems. Only 0.5% of abortions performed in Texas occur after twenty weeks. But of that 0.5%, most are informed decisions made by mothers and families based upon serious medical issues. This is why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes this bill. Many congenital anomalies are not detectable prior to twenty weeks, and SB 5 would eliminate any ability to decide how to proceed in those cases.

These facts have been presented to the committee in the written testimony I have just submitted for Secular Texas. Despite this, despite Hegar’s less than convincing performance, despite the hundreds of women who have registered their opposition around Texas, and despite the testimony they are about to hear, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will vote these four bills out of committee for the consideration of the full Texas Senate the next day. And the reason why is as simple and straight forward as a thing can be. It is the insistence of these legislators that they have as much control as they can over women’s reproductive decisions. It’s about power.

The woman stands at the podium and recounts how she and her husband were informed after the twenty week point in her pregnancy that her baby would either be stillborn or would survive only a few minutes after delivery due to a terminal illness. She talks about how people would ask her about her pregnancy. When is the baby due? Is it a boy or a girl? The questions were so distressing to her knowing that her baby was dying that she eventually had to stay home to avoid them. She testifies that she and her husband, after struggling with this very personal decision, went to a Seton hospital and asked for her labor to be induced; but their request is refused because the baby will die. Finally, she goes to a specialist who agrees to stop the baby’s heart and induce her labor. This is a late term abortion. She talks about holding her stillborn child and wrapping it in a blanket. She is crying. I am crying. The senate chamber is silent.

Gov. Rick Perry Uses Texas to Spread His Hate

Secular Texas yesterday called on Governor Rick Perry to apologize for his comments regarding the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to admit gay scouts. Perry issued a statement last Thursday expressing his disappointment in the decision. Perry and Congressman Louie Gohmert went on the anti-gay Family Research Council’s radio show the next day. Perry stated during the radio interview that God would hold the Boy Scouts of America accountable for its decision. Gohmert stated in the same interview that the decision of the Boy Scouts of America would lead to older gay scouts raping younger scouts.

A spokesman for Secular Texas said,

“We find it abhorrent that Governor Perry would be associated with such false and inflammatory statements as those made by Congressman Gohmert much less release a statement from the Governor’s office condemning the decision to admit gay scouts. We applaud the Boy Scouts for moving to include gay youths in their organization. Gay citizens of Texas deserve to know if Rick Perry represents them as governor, or just heterosexual Texas citizens.”

Secular Texas released the following open letter to Perry asking for an apology for his comments.

Gov. Rick Perry,

On Thursday, May 23, you used your position as Governor of the State of Texas to release an official statement through the Office of the Governor attempting to shame the Boy Scouts of America for their decision to end discrimination against homosexual boys wishing to be Scouts. As Governor of the State of Texas it is neither your duty nor your privilege to use the office to further your own personal prejudices and religious beliefs.

Does a child’s sexual orientation make him less deserving or able to enjoy and learn from the scouting experience in your eyes? Do all of our children, regardless of sexual preference, not deserve equal treatment and opportunity? Further, to cloak this hate in the guise of family values, suggesting that homosexuals are less deserving or less capable of healthy family relationships, is ignorant and shameful.

As Governor of Texas it is your constitutional responsibility to stand up for the rights of all Texans and to ensure that all Texans are treated equally by the government, including homosexual Texans. By shaming the BSA for their decision you have neglected to equally represent all citizens of Texas. You have called for the discrimination of our fellow citizens by a private organization based on your personal opinion. In addition, you have born false witness against the citizens of Texas that do not believe homosexuals should be shamed or discriminated against. You have done these things not as an individual citizen expressing a personal opinion, but as the Governor of Texas.

Your actions in this situation are unacceptable. We respectfully request that you officially withdraw your statement and issue an apology to the citizens of Texas for whom you have failed to stand.

In the future, if you wish to express your personal opinions we are sure you can find a medium other than the official channels of the State or using your position as an elected official of our State by which to have your voice heard.

Respectfully,

Secular Texas

Pray for Rain

This weekend I visited my home town, Wichita Falls, TX. The city that has the Texas Legislature talking about the future of water in Texas. Unless the local weather patterns change drastically from the past several years, Wichita Falls will likely be out of water at the end of the year.

In my visit I got a little taste of the measures they are taking to conserve water and lower usage. The city has declared Stage 2 drought conditions, which means that residents can water their lawns only one day per week, from midnight to sunrise. Residents, however, have found a way around this. As I walked through my parents neighborhood I realized why there were lush green lawns across town. While it is easy to get caught watering your lawn with a big sprinkler display, if you lay soaker-hoses throughout your lawn you can water without attracting attention to yourself. After all, they do have the right to water their turf grass, and who is going to tell them otherwise?

The city has also decided to allow the local water park, Castaway Cove, to open for business in two weeks, running a wave pool, lazy river, slides and other pools and rides. My grandfather told me he is adding half an inch to an inch a day to keep his small residential pool full (which has also not been stopped by the city). I cannot even imagine how much water will be lost to evaporation at the water park.

“So,” you might be asking, “If the city and residents aren’t taking measure to slow their loss of water, what is their plan?” Well… they’re going to let God figure that out. In lawns across the city, small blue yard signs are posted, reading, “Pray for Rain,” referencing 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing.

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To increase the irony even further, the yards with these signs were, almost without fail, among the greenest yards in their neighborhoods. “Pray for Rain!” Because I’m sure as hell not going to stop watering my lawn!

Businesses are getting in on the action, as well. Perm-O-Green, a yard service company, has continued to fertilize customer’s yards on normal schedules, without consultation with customers beforehand. Once a yard has been fertilized, if it is not watered you can be sure that the grass will not just remain dormant, but actually die. But don’t worry, they have a plan, too:

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It’s not a different plan, but obviously they aren’t too worried about coming up with creative solutions.

So this is the plan. To act like nothing is happening. To wait for sky-daddy to come to the rescue. But when that doesn’t work, it is the rest of Texas that will be making sacrifices to ensure the safety and continuance of Wichita Falls. It is our water that we will find a way to get to them, and it is our tax dollars that will be used to do so.

Bills out for vote in Texas Legislature

We need your help!

Below is a list of all bills on our watch-list that are now or will soon be out for vote on the floor of the Texas Legislature. Please take the time to contact your legislators about these bills. We have included notes you can use in your letter, email or phone call. We will soon be posting emails for each bill that you can use, as well.

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SB 115 (Williams)

Caption: Relating to a school choice program for certain students with disabilities.

Status: Placed on Intent Calendar.

Companion: HB 1175. House Public Education committee has not heard the bill.

Stance: Against

Analysis: This is a back-door voucher bill, meant to sneak in vouchers in certain categories while nobody is looking. Voucher / School Choice programs have largely supported religious indoctrination when enacted in other states. The Americans With Disabilities Act already requires that schools pay for students with disabilities that cannot be accommodated by the school to attend a private school that can accommodated the student. This bill will not change the way students with disabilities are treated or cared for, but only further the goal of some to subvert public education in Texas.

Vouchers: To determine the impact of school voucher programs on the future of education in Texas, we must consider the results of similar programs across the nation. A recent study found that in nine states that have enacted voucher programs, many deliver an entirely religious curriculum and at least 310 voucher schools publicly state they are teaching pseudo-science such as Biblical creationism. Our tax money should not fund schools that do not meet evidence-based education standards and cannot fund religious instruction.

HB 2816 (Burkett)

Caption: Relating to requirements for physicians who perform abortions; creating an offense.

Status: Committee report sent to Calendars.

Companion: SB 1198. Placed on Intent Calendar.

Stance: Against

Analysis: This bill is overly restrictive. A physician’s admitting privileges have no bearing on a woman’s ability to get emergency medical care at any appropriate facility. This bill will only serve to further the religious goal to restrict access to abortion services, which studies have shown does not reduce abortion and would only endanger women by forcing them to seek unsafe methods.

SB 1198 (Taylor)

Caption: Relating to requirements for physicians who perform abortions; creating an offense.

Status: Placed on intent calendar.

Companion: HB 2816. Committee report sent to Calendars.

Stance: Against

Analysis: This bill is overly restrictive. A physician’s admitting privileges have no bearing on a woman’s ability to get emergency medical care at any appropriate facility. This bill will only serve to further the religious goal to restrict access to abortion services, which studies have shown does not reduce abortion and would only endanger women by forcing them to seek unsafe methods.

SB 1316 (Whitmire)

Caption: Relating to the prosecution of the offense of indecency with a child.

Status: Placed on intent calendar.

Companion: HB 2403(very similar). Committee reported favorably w/o amendment.

Stance: Support

Analysis: In Texas, teenagers may be sexually active so long as they are over the age of 14, within four years of age of their partner, and the act is consensual. That is, unless you are gay or lesbian. Then it is a felony. In fact, if a doctor learns of a gay or lesbian teenager that is sexually active, that doctor is required to turn the teenager in to the police. These bills would change the law to treat gay and lesbian teenagers by the same rules as straight teenagers.

HB 2403 (Gonzalez)

Caption: Relating to removing gender restrictions in the “Romeo and Juliet” defense.

Status: Committee reported favorably w/o amendment.

Companion: SB 1316 (very similar). Placed on intent calendar.

Stance: Support

Analysis: In Texas, teenagers may be sexually active so long as they are over the age of 14, within four years of age of their partner, and the act is consensual. That is, unless you are gay or lesbian. Then it is a felony. In fact, if a doctor learns of a gay or lesbian teenager that is sexually active, that doctor is required to turn the teenager in to the police. These bills would change the law to treat gay and lesbian teenagers by the same rules as straight teenagers.

SB 521 (Paxton)

Caption: Relating to the provision of and parental approval for a student’s participation in human sexuality and family planning instruction in public schools.

Status: Committee report printed and distributed.

Companion: HB 1057. Committee reported favorably as substituted.

Stance: Against

Analysis: As a group advocating for rational decision making, we believe it is important to provide our youth with a full education and understanding of human sexuality so that they may make the best decisions possible. Over half of parents are not providing meaningful discussions or education to their children about human sex and sexuality. The birth rate among teens in Texas has reached the unenviable status of being the highest in the country, as well as having one of the highest teen sexual activity rates and lowest rate of teens using protection. When we as a state make receiving sex education in school even harder, where do we think these kids are going to learn about sex? We understand if parents have personal or religious reasons to keep their children from attending sex education in schools, however, let’s not make this personal and religious conviction the default for all parents throughout the state.

HB 1057 (Leach)

Caption: Relating to the provision of and parental approval for a student’s participation in human sexuality and family planning instruction in public schools.

Status: Committee reported favorably as substituted.

Companion: SB 521. Committee report printed and distributed.

Stance: Against

Analysis: As a group advocating for rational decision making, we believe it is important to provide our youth with a full education and understanding of human sexuality so that they may make the best decisions possible. Over half of parents are not providing meaningful discussions or education to their children about human sex and sexuality. The birth rate among teens in Texas has reached the unenviable status of being the highest in the country, as well as having one of the highest teen sexual activity rates and lowest rate of teens using protection. When we as a state make receiving sex education in school even harder, where do we think these kids are going to learn about sex? We understand if parents have personal or religious reasons to keep their children from attending sex education in schools, however, let’s not make this personal and religious conviction the default for all parents throughout the state.

SB 23 (Patrick)

Caption: Relating to the establishment of the Texas Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Status: Not again placed on intent calendar.

Companion: No House companion.

Stance: Against

Analysis: This is a back-door voucher program. The especially dubious take of this voucher bill is that instead of taking money out of the Texas budget to pay for vouchers, it intercepts the money before it reaches the Texas budget by letting corporations donate their tax payments to organizations which give “scholarships” for students to attend private schools. According to a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, this financing scheme would not allow the State to place restrictions on how the money is spent, meaning it can be spend on religious education and schools that do not meet basic educational standards.

Vouchers: To determine the impact of school voucher programs on the future of education in Texas, we must consider the results of similar programs across the nation. A recent study found that in nine states that have enacted voucher programs, many deliver an entirely religious curriculum and at least 310 voucher schools publicly state they are teaching pseudo-science such as Biblical creationism. Our tax money should not fund schools that do not meet evidence-based education standards and cannot fund religious instruction.

SB 97 (Patrick)

Caption: Relating to distributing or prescribing abortion-inducing drugs; providing penalties.

Status: Committee report printed and distributed.

Companion: No House Companion.

Stance: Against

Analysis: Medical / drug induced abortion is the safest way to terminate a pregnancy. They have been prescribed for many years under the current system and there is no medical reason to not continue this method. The only reason to make a change would be to enforce religious conviction as law, which is not the place of the State.

SB 537 (Deuell)

Caption: Relating to minimum standards for abortion facilities.

Status: Not again placed on intent calendar.

Companion: No House Companion.

Stance: Against

Analysis: Abortions, especially non-surgical procedures, are among the safest of modern medical procedures. Enacting further restrictions will serve only to limit access to abortion services, not improve the safety. Furthermore, this bill targets all abortion-providing facilities as the same. In fact, there are two types of abortion procedures administered in Texas. In the first trimester (accounting for around 98% of abortions in Texas) are medically induced abortions; that is, a pill. The remainder, less than 2% of abortions, are surgical. All surgical abortions in Texas are administered in facilities that already meet the standards in this bill. Holding facilities that do not offer surgical abortions to surgical standards is obviously not a rational attempt at law making, but an attempt to restrict access to abortions based on personal and religious convictions.

HB 997 (Smithee)

Caption: Relating to health plan and health benefit plan coverage for abortions.

Status: Committee report sent to Calendars.

Companion: No Senate Companion.

Stance: Against

Analysis: The State has no place in restrict an insurance companies ability to cover abortions. This is simply an attempt to enforce personal religious convictions with the help of the State.

SB 538 (Rodriguez)

Caption: Relating to the repeal of the offense of homosexual conduct.

Status: Committee report printed and distributed.

Companion: HB 1701. Scheduled for public hearing in House Criminal Jurisprudence committee on April 29.

Stance: Support

Analysis: The Texas law against homosexual activity has been struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States. There is no reason beyond religious motivation not to remove this law from our codes.

HB 1568 (Alonzo)

Caption: Relating to funding under the Foundation School Program for a school district that offers insurance benefits to a person who is not a dependent of a district employee.

Status: Committee report filed with Committee Coordinator.

Companion: No Senate Companion.

Stance: Against

Analysis: A couple progressive local school districts around the state have decided on a local level to provide health insurance coverage to the partners of LGBT employees, making them equals with their colleagues. House conservatives have decided to take away the rights of these school districts by penalizing them for their commitment to the qualities that make America great, equal treatment under the law of all citizens. The attack on school districts that offer equal benefits to homosexual couples as straight couples is an attempt to enforce the religious convictions of some through law. It is simply not the place of the state to make law out of religious conviction.

HB 308 (Bohac)

Caption: Relating to a school district’s recognition of and education regarding traditional winter celebrations.

Status: Reported favorably w/o amendment.

Companion: SB 665. Senate Education committee has not heard this bill.

Stance: Against

Analysis: This bill provides no rights not already held by all involved and would not serve to expand religious freedom. This is simply the personal crusade of one legislator in a pathetic attempt to gain votes among hyper-religious constituents.

SB 1362 (Schwertner)

Caption: Relating to a requirement that students at an open-enrollment charter school recite the pledges of allegiance to the United States flag and the state flag.

Status: Committee report printed and distributed.

Companion: HB 773. Committee reported engrossed.

Stance: Against

Analysis: Besides the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States has held it s a breach of the First Amendment to force a student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we do not support forcing students to acknowledge a god.

HB 773 (Farney)

Caption: Relating to a requirement that students at an open-enrollment charter school recite the pledges of allegiance to the United States flag and the state flag.

Status: Committee reported engrossed.

Companion: SB 1362. Committee report printed and distributed.

Stance: Against

Analysis: Besides the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States has held it s a breach of the First Amendment to force a student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we do not support forcing students to acknowledge a god.