Bill requiring Ten Commandments in Texas classrooms fails in House after missing crucial deadline

The Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds in Austin on July 16, 2012 (Ariel Min/The Texas Tribune, Ariel Min/The Texas Tribune)

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A bill requiring the Ten Commandments to be posted in Texas classrooms is dead after failing to get a vote by the House before a crucial Tuesday night deadline.

Senate Bill 1515 sailed through the Texas Senate on party-line votes last month and received initial approval from a House committee on May 16, but it was among dozens of bills that didn’t get a House floor vote before the midnight deadline.

The bill would have required public school classrooms to display copies of the Ten Commandments that are at least 16 inches wide and 20 inches tall, and “in a size and typeface that is legible to a person with average vision from anywhere in the classroom.”

Democrats in both chambers had fiercely opposed the idea, saying it would be an insult to non-Christian Texans and an attempt to erode the separation of church and state. The legislation was the latest in an ongoing push by conservative Christians to center public life around their religious views. This session, lawmakers have called church-state separation a “false doctrine” as they push legislation that has concerned non-Christian groups, including a bill to allow unlicensed religious chaplains to work in Texas schools. That legislation has been supported by figures that have also endorsed using school chaplains as a tool for evangelism.

Christian groups have been emboldened by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that they believe have shown a blueprint for injecting Christianity into public education, though some experts have raised questions about the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments bill because it could be seen as an endorsement of one religion over another.

The bill comes amid a broader normalization on the right of Christian nationalism, the belief that America’s founding was God-ordained and its institutions and laws should favor Christianity. Recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute found more than half of Republicans adhere to or sympathize with claims that the U.S. should be a strictly Christian nation. Of those respondents, PRRI found, about half also supported having an authoritarian leader to maintain Christian dominance in society. Experts have also found strong correlations between Christian nationalist beliefs and opposition to immigration, racial justice and religious diversity.

Christian nationalist views have been pushed for decades by prominent Texas Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and David Barton, the widely debunked amateur historian who has spent nearly four decades arguing that church-state separation is a “myth.”

Barton, the founder of WallBuilders, was a key witness in support of the Ten Commandments bill, which he and others argued would return morality to Texas classrooms and help prevent everything from school shootings to growing LGBTQ acceptance.

Conservative Christians have made similar claims to justify other pushes to put their religion in Texas public life, including during debates over the ongoing chaplains bill and a 2021 bill that required Texas classrooms to display donated “In God We Trust” signs.

After the passage of that bill, a North Texas school district rejected signs in Arabic that were donated by a local parent while allowing English versions that were provided by Patriot Mobile, a Grapevine-based conservative cellphone company that has funded numerous Christian nationalist campaigns in the state, including anti-LGBTQ school board candidates.

Leaders of the State Board of Education have also supported such moves: Last week, The Texas Tribune reported that Julie Pickren, a far-right Christian who was elected to the SBOE last year, has spoken in favor of using unlicensed chaplains to put God in Texas schools. Pickren’s comments came in a speech to the National School Chaplain Association, of which she and her husband are board members. The association has been instrumental in the push to put chaplains in schools and has direct ties to another group, Mission Generation, that has supported the use of chaplains to evangelize to children.

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