2013 Texas Legislative Update: Values in Education – What are Parents’ Rights and What is Appropriate in School Settings?


The issue of how values and religious traditions can come into education is not new.  Every legislative session various bills are filed for school children based purely on the values and religion of legislators, possibly even requested by parents and guardians.  These Representatives, Senators, and parents are seeking to increase religion in school after Supreme Court cases McCollum v. Board of Education Dist. 71 (prohibiting religious education in public schools during the school day) and Lemon v. Kurtzman (establishing the “Lemon test” for legislation concerning religion and holding the Catholic parochial school system was excessive government entanglement with religion).

Today, April 2, 2013, the Texas House Public Education Committee will be discussing two such religion and public school bills, among two dozen education bills.  HB 308 seeks to allow educators to say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy Holidays” without fear of reprimand.  The bill is co-authored by Bohac (R-Houston), Raymond (D-Laredo), Orr (R-Burleson), Eiland (D-Galveston), and Huberty (R-Kingwood).

The official caption for this bill is:

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

However, bloggers supporting the bill show it’s true flavor.  Some supports feel atheists are attacking Christmas, rather than families with different believes on what Christmas is and is not wanting to teach their kids their family values.  Parents deserve the right to educate their children on religion as they see fit.

Supports believe this bill which permits, among other provisions, “winter celebration” decorations in schools is legal because of the Supreme Court case Lynch v. Donnelly (permitting a town’s holiday decorations which included secular and religious displays).  However, the sponsors are Christians who want Christmas tradition taught in school.  Even if Jewish and secular traditions are taught too, it is highly probable in many parts of Texas Christianity would receive the most attention.  Religion, including religious holidays, should be taught in the home where families can determine what should and should not be taught.

Ironically, HB 1057 seeks to do the opposite, removing the power of educators to teach certain health and sexuality classes by adding a requirement of written permission from the parents to teach family planning.  This bill is co-authored by Leach (R-Plano), Laubenberg (R-Murphy), Morrison (R-Victoria), Scott Turner (R-Frisco), White (R-Woodville).  Every sponsor of this abortion centered bill is Republican, whereas the HB 308 holiday bill had support from both major parties.

HB 1057 seeks to prohibit any organization that provides abortions from teaching youth about family planning in public schools.  The bill attacks Planned Parenthood without explicitly saying so.  This bill is intended to put religion back in the health and science classrooms based on morals or values around abortion, not the health needs of possibly sexually active teens.

The Public Education Committee will have to consider the rights they want parents and guardians to have to decide what their children learn.  If parental permission is required for human sexuality courses, I cannot see how holidays, values, and traditions around “winter celebrations” can be taught by educators without exacting the same parental permission.