The Texas Tribune and ProPublica just spotlighted 20 churches (mostly in Texas) that routinely violate the Johnson Amendment, which bans nonprofits from endorsing or opposing political candidates. That’s not to say those places of worship are barred from supporting or opposing social issues. Preachers can and do discuss gun control, abortion, and other things, but the federal law that’s been in place since 1954 prevents tax-exempt organizations from acting as de facto political action committees.
Several scofflaw churches — Gateway Church, First Baptist Grapevine, and, our favorite, Mercy Culture Church — are right here in North Texas. Conservative Christians have increasingly scoffed at this country’s separation of church and state, which has led groups like Metroplex Atheists to focus on the growing threat of Christian Nationalism that seeks to install right-wing zealots into office.
Julie Weston, social media director for Metroplex Atheists, said her secular organization will focus on religious indoctrination in Texas’ public school system as part of Saturday’s panel discussion, Keep God Out of Our Public Schools, at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
“If you say ‘God,’ which God are we speaking of?” Weston said, referring to the Pledge of Allegiance and other pledges. “We all believe differently.”
In April, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1515, which would have required the 10 Commandments to be posted in public schools. Though the bill was not passed by the broader House and failed to become law, the push by Weatherford Sen. Phil King and other Republicans to force Christian doctrine upon children who may not be religious was a reminder that we’re only one house bill away from living in a real-life Handmaid’s Tale.
Book-banning, anti-LGBTQ bathroom bills, and other attacks on minorities are largely driven by Christian Nationalists like our horrible county judge, Tim O’Hare, and too many local school board members, especially around Grapevine-Colleyville and Southlake.
“The separation of church and state is a federal law,” Weston continued. “People should be allowed to believe and worship how they wish to. You can pray in public school. When you make it mandatory for all students to pray, then you punish those students who don’t follow the same practice.”
The breakdown of separation of church and state isn’t always as overt as school leaders requiring students to pray, she added.
“Students who don’t pray or don’t stand for the pledge are often shamed or bullied by their classmates,” she said.
Weston said Saturday’s event aims to bring attention to a problem that many Americans may not know about, especially if they do not have children in public schools. The free event that runs from 1pm to 5pm has enjoyed vast media coverage due to missteps by the City of Fort Worth, who blocked Metroplex Atheists volunteers from hanging banners downtown to promote the event, something that requires city approval. Last month, American Atheists, the national nonprofit that sometimes litigates on behalf of local atheistic groups, filed a lawsuit against Fort Worth on behalf of Metroplex Atheists, alleging city officials discriminated against the group. That lawsuit is ongoing, Weston said, adding that she cannot disclose further details of the litigation that seeks monetary damages.
Weston hopes the Botanic Garden event attracts folks from all religious or non-religious backgrounds.
“People are forgetting that it is OK to disagree with someone and not hate them,” she said. “I, as an atheist, have nothing against anybody who chooses to go to church, mosque, or temple. They are all wonderful human beings. As much as I don’t want to convert people, I don’t want to be proselytized to by people who don’t believe the way I do. We can agree to disagree about this one point in our lives. If you make it all about this one issue, then you may miss out on an otherwise wonderful relationship.”
This article was updated to correct the title of Saturday’s event.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit it for clarity and concision.