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Mr. Kelly Shackelford
Chairman Cornyn, Ranking Member Feingold, and members of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, thank you for extending the invitation to me to testify before you on the subject of the current hostilities to religious freedom.
Unfortunately, we do not have to look to Canada's recent passage of a hate speech law, which makes it a crime to read sections of the Bible aloud, in order to find outrageous violations of religious freedom. We have our own problems here in the U.S.
While I have been Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law since 1994 teaching Religious Liberties, I speak to you today as the Chief Counsel of the Liberty Legal Institute. I have spent the past 15 years as litigator in the area of constitutional religious freedoms and have overseen hundreds of cases. Let me assure you- the hostility is real. We see it everyday. There are those who feel they are doing the country a service by removing all religious vestiges of our country and restricting religious speech from the public arena; and they are having great success.
Ten Commandment displays are being removed by court orders across the country. "Under God" is being challenged in our pledge. Cities are having all religious symbols removed form their city seals. Churches and synagogues are being banned from entire communities and children are being told their religious expression is prohibited in school.
In the short time I have, I just want to share a few of our cases as an example. You have already heard from one of our clients, Barney Clark. In Balch Springs, the senior citizens were told they could not sing Gospel songs or pray over their meals in their own senior center, because it was a public building. They were shocked. Only after an extensive lawsuit over months and attorneys who donated over $80,000 of time did they get their rights vindicated.
In the H.E.B. Ministries v. Tex. Higher Educ. Coordinating Bd., Tyndale Seminary was fined $173,000 for issuing 34 diplomas in the Bible without first getting State approval of its curriculum, board, and professors. The lower courts have ruled against them at each step of the way up to this point. Small African American and Hispanic seminaries across the state are being shut down for failing to get state approval as well. The Institute for Teaching God's Word Seminary, an African-American seminary which was simply training black pastors in the Bible, was shut down for not getting State approval first of their board and curriculum.
Even more disturbing to me are the actions taken against children:
Many are aware of the Santa Fe ISD v. Doe, football game prayer case. Few are aware of the order below in which the federal judge not only ordered the students not to pray in Jesus' name but told them that federal marshals would be in attendance to carry any student who did so to the Galveston County jail for up to six months. The judge then stated, and I quote, "Anybody who violates these orders, no kidding, is going to wish that he or she had died as a child when this court gets through with it." This is the atmosphere we have created in the schools for our children.
Last, I want to mention the Ten Commandments case in which we were involved. In Van Orden v. Perry, we pointed out that this attempt to remove the Ten Commandments was clear religious bigotry and hostility. Numerous monuments exist around the Texas Capitol grounds. The attempt to ban only the historical monument with religious content is wrong. It is an attempt to censor and erase the religious parts of our history.
Unfortunately, the Establishment Clause is now a weapon used to eradicate from the public realm any ideas which one disagrees with by labeling them "religious." As the many Ten Commandments cases show, it is now an instrument being used to rewrite history- in particular, to censor religious parts of our history and heritage. Our Founders are turning in their graves.
The hostility is real. A pervasive atmosphere has been created to ban religion in public. The "separation of religion and state" fundamentalists and activist courts are succeeding in sowing confusion and an atmosphere of hostility--with most government officials now even feeling they have some duty of "religious cleansing" in public.
The Honorable Roy Moore
Mr. Richard Garnett
Ms. Nashala Hearn
Mr. Barney Clark
Mr. Vincent Phillip Munoz
Mr. Steven Rosenauer
Mr. Brent Walker
Ms. Melissa Rogers
The Honorable Chet Edwards
Mr. Kelly Shackelford