Is Texas a Theocracy?
If you read through the Texas Republican Party’s 37-page long list of “principles,” it is hard to find many of the 334 items included that don’t mention God, religion, and exclusively Christian values in some form or another. It’s no secret that the Republican Party doesn’t exactly leave religion out of their politics, and living in our red state as a non-Christian—or as one who simply does not subscribe to an outdated and oftentimes oppressive lifestyle—means enduring policies that contradict your own beliefs and rights. And it can be infuriating.
Let’s examine some of these policies—specifically those regarding reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and alcohol sales. Nationwide, efforts toward equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community have been very successful—in 2015, same-sex marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court in all 50 states. Unfortunately, Texas lawmakers continue to propose legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ+ people. For example, earlier this year Senate Bill 17 was approved by the Texas senate, which The Guardian says “would protect the right of state-licensed workers such as doctors, teachers and counselors to refuse to provide their services based on 'a sincerely held religious belief,’ except in cases where medical services are necessary to ‘prevent death or imminent serious bodily injury.’” Many believe this controversial bill, proposed by Republican senator Charles Perry, will encourage discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community. “What we’ve seen crop up,” says Angela Hale of Equality Texas, “not just here in Texas but across the country, are these religious exemption bills. It’s kind of a disguised way of trying to discriminate against the LGBT community or minority religious groups across the United States.”
Texas has also failed to repeal certain laws criminalizing homosexuality, despite their ineffectuality. Section 21.06 of the Penal Code, which outlaws “homosexual conduct” is one of these laws, and according to the Texas Observer, “Texas is one of 12 states with so-called sodomy bans still on the books, and one of three where the laws specifically target homosexual activity.” In addition to encouraging hateful sentiment toward LGBTQ+ people, this law has led to the attempted arrests of members of the queer community; the Texas Observer reports that “in 2009, El Paso police threatened to arrest several gay men for ‘homosexual conduct’ after two of them kissed in a restaurant.”
Abortion is another right that religious groups across the country have continued to infringe upon, and laws in Texas surrounding abortion have narrowed access tremendously. “Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country,” states FindLaw.com, “including mandatory ultrasound imaging and parental consent for minors. Additionally, women seeking abortion-inducing medications must make four visits to a doctor and obtain an ultrasound.” The most recent laws passed to restrict abortion access include House Bill 214, which would force women to purchase separate insurance policies if they wish to have abortion coverage. Texas Democrat Chris Turner stated, “By signing HB 214 into law, Governor Abbott has told women and parents they must pay extra for what is tantamount to ‘rape insurance.’”
“These laws are slowly hacking away at Roe v. Wade under the guise of ‘protecting women,’” comments a Galveston resident, “but they are doing quite the opposite. We can’t sit back and watch abortion laws revert back to the way they were in the 1950s, when women died trying to use clothes hangers to end their pregnancies.” In an interview with ABC News, Adele Zimmerman describes the aftermath of receiving an illegal abortion in 1965 from a doctor who insisted she be blindfolded during the procedure. “It was probably one of the most alone times I've ever had. Damn, I was scared,” she said. “The bleeding wouldn't stop. I didn't know how to stop it. I didn't know what would happen. And I was one of the lucky ones, I survived. A lot of women did not survive, or they developed horrible complications, complications that ruined their health. My theory is that it isn't about respect for fetuses or religion.” She continued, “It's trying to put the genie back in the bottle, and women are the genies. Because if you can't control your reproduction, what are your career choices? You become dependent on men, which is what they want.”
Ever wonder why you can’t buy alcohol on Sundays or Christmas, but liquor stores are allowed to remain open during Ramadan? While they are perhaps less of a hot-button issue, let’s examine the Texas laws that prevent the sale of liquor on days seen as holy in the Christian religion. According to the Dallas Morning News, Christian laws governing the sale of alcohol can be traced all the way back to the 1890s, but the “blue laws” we know today didn’t take effect until 1961, and were “embraced by many religious groups for [their] purpose to ‘protect family values.’” Blue Laws are so deeply engrained in our culture that it seems we hardly question them, but in a society where many other rights are under siege by antiquated Christian values—and the government that creates policy supporting them—we must consider their effect on our state and our democracy.
Unfortunately, religion seeps into many other aspects of the law in our great state, from sex education to marijuana policy. But we don’t live in a theocracy; we live in a democracy, and it is our responsibility to protest policies that threaten the separation of church and state. Columnist Jin Kim from Collegiate Times puts it nicely: “To say that our government is founded on Christian values denounces the very efforts our Founding Fathers made to promote the separation of religion and government.”
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