Texas Constitution, Article 1. Bill of Rights, Sec. 3 EQUAL RIGHTS
“All free men, when they form a social compact, have equal rights, and no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive separate public emoluments, or privileges, but in consideration of public services.”

The language is a bit old-fashioned, but this clause of the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights guarantees that all Texans, without exception, be treated equally under law ‒ a right also guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This simple and enlightened idea is the basis for our free society, and is the backbone of most the issues on which Secular Texas takes a stand.

When Texans of any religious creed demand that our shared government enforce their dogmas, their beliefs or their morals through the power of the law, they demand special privilege over all Texans. When the legislature enacts laws to enforce personal religious beliefs, it imposes on the religious and civil rights of all Texans, giving special privilege to one group, and violates this fundamental right guaranteed by both the Texas and United States Constitutions.

When we enforce religious beliefs through law, we violate the rights of people of other faiths ‒ or those of no faith ‒ forcing them to live out the beliefs of others in violation of their own personal conscience. It also violates the rights of people who agree with the religiously based law, by forcing them to follow this tenet of their faith not as a person free to make their own moral and religious decisions, but under threat of law.

When government stays out of the business of enforcing religious beliefs through law, all citizens are protected to live according to their personal religious beliefs or conscience as they see fit. With this view, government is not a moral force, but instead a coming together of the people to lay out the infrastructure for their society. And there may be no more important piece of infrastructure for a free society than guaranteeing that all people are treated equally under the law.

2015 marks 20 years since Texas has required an abstinence-until-marriage approach to sex education in our public schools, teaching our teens to just say no to sex. For these 20 years Texas has consistently ranked in the top 10 states for teen sexual activity, the top 5 states for highest teen pregnancy rate, the highest rate in the nation for repeat teen pregnancies, and among the bottom 5 states for condom use by sexually active teens. In short, despite all the efforts of abstinence-until-marriage sex education, Texas has some of the most dangerous sexual behavior among teens in the entire nation. Young Texans deserve better sex education than the current abstinence-until-marriage approach. We call on the Texas Legislature to reform sex education in Texas to a more honest and educational model, such as abstinence-plus.

Studies from around the United States have shown that the vast majority of schools that receive public funds through voucher programs are religious schools that provide a religious education. During public testimony of the Senate Education Committee hearing on vouchers during the 83rd Legislature, almost all Texans speaking in favor of voucher programs stated that they support vouchers specifically because it will enable them to give their children a religious education, with the Texas taxpayers footing the bill. A religious education is a ministry used to instill the tenets of faith upon students. The Bill of Rights of the Texas Constitution, Section 6, guarantees that no citizen of Texas can be forced to finance the ministry of any religious denomination. In addition, voucher bills consistently offer no guarantees on the quality of education to be provided at public expense. Many religious school receiving voucher subsidies around the United States publicly claim to teach unscientific concepts, such as Biblical creationism, in science classrooms.

In the October 2014 UT/Texas Tribune poll, 67% of Texans with an opinion on the issue believe the LGBTQ community should not be denied the right to either marry or form civil unions. In a Texas Tech poll a plurality of Texans expressed support for same-sex marriage rights. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 3 of the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights both guarantee that all citizens are equal under the law, with no special privilege given to any citizen, or group of citizens, over others. Since the state of Texas is involved in the legal institution of marriage, it must guarantee equal access to the protections of marriage to all citizens. In addition, by enforcing the religious beliefs of Texans that oppose gay marriage through law, the state gives special privilege to certain religious groups and denies equal treatment to, not just LGBTQ Texans, but also Texans of faith who support the marriage of same-sex couples within their religion. Another option available, if Texas is not able to provide equal rights under the law to all Texans, is for Texas to remove the legal institution of marriage from our laws.

During the 83rd Legislature, LGBTQ rights bills were for the first time brought in front of committees for consideration, and approved in both the House and Senate. This was a small but important step. The 84th Legislature is in a position to ensure that LGBTQ Texans are treated as equals under the law, a right guaranteed by Section 3 of the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Additionally, Texas law provides protections to groups based on immutable characteristics, such as race, gender and religious affiliation. Sexual orientation and gender identity need to be added to this list of protected immutable characteristics.

Over the past decade, Texas legislators have made steady headway in steering women’s behavior toward the values in their personal or religious worldview through the erosion of access to contraception and abortion. Unfortunately, these efforts to removing access in the name of “compelling state interest” do more damage to a well-functioning society in general and to the progress of women in particular. These attempts seem to suggest that rather than allow responsible access to contraception, abstinence is more effective; or in the case of married women, that childbearing is their lot in life if they cannot afford access to proper gynecological care. These run counter to what has been shown to be effective in improving women’s health. As emotionally charged as these topics are, having a strong educational foundation about sex, publicly funded access to gynecological care for those who cannot afford it, and reasonable access to abortion when the first two are not sufficient, benefits all Texans.

Solid science education is fundamental to being a well-informed member of our advancing society. Without grounding in the basics of science it is impossible to make well-informed voting decisions regarding the environment, economy and scientific research. All Texas children should receive solid science education based on current, mainstream scientific understanding in each field of study. Outlying hypotheses should not be ignored, but discussed in reference to the scientific process and why they do not meet the standard for widespread acceptance. A required High School Science class on the Philosophy and Practice of Science could help to instill in students a basic understanding of what science is and how it is practiced, as well as cultivating critical thinking and decision making skills.

Texans are a varied people, with citizens of many belief systems or no belief system. Any state endorsement of religion or a religious group, even without intent, uses public resources to put that group in a privileged position and relegates the people of other religious groups, or the non-religious, to a lower class. We hold that all religious matters should be kept out of Texas government, which should instead be run on evidence-based and reason-driven decision making.

Religious Special Privilege

Secular Texas is a strong supporter of the rights of individuals to freedom of conscience and freedom of worship. However, when these basic freedoms are used as an excuse to infringe on the right to equal treatment of other citizens, under the law or in the marketplace, we recommend caution, empathy and an attention to nuance to guarantee the maximum rights of Texans.

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