Legal Lesson: Texas Lt. Gov. Is Clueless About American History And The First Amendment

It seems Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has a poor understanding of both American history and the First Amendment. So let’s take a few moments to educate him.

In a recent viewpoint piece published by the San Antonio Express-News, Patrick attempted to argue that religious freedom is under attack in the United States, which is contradictory to America’s “Christian nation” roots.

“Religious liberty is the underpinning of our nation and constitution, and the battle to protect that precious freedom should be fought just as strongly today as it was in 1776,” Patrick wrote.

No problem so far. But Patrick’s statements headed downhill pretty quickly from there as he went on to claim that the Founding Fathers were a bunch of ministers who created “a nation that was founded upon the Old & New Testament.”

“It’s no wonder that nearly half of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence held seminary or Bible school degrees,” Patrick claimed.

Where in any of America’s early documents does it say that we were founded on the Bible? The answer is nowhere. And even if half of the signers of the Declaration did have religious training, so what? That does not prove they intended our nation to be officially Christian. Besides, the Declaration is not a governing document. It is essentially an announcement to the world that we were serious about separating from Great Britain. It’s an important historical document, but it doesn’t outline our form of government.

It’s telling that Patrick referenced the signers of the Declaration, rather than the Constitution, because he probably knows deep down that the Constitution is a secular document that established a secular government.

Patrick went on to complain about a bunch of supposed threats to “religious freedom” in Texas, including “challenges to our national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ on police cars in Childress; city officials in Orange removing a public Christmas nativity scene out of litigation fears from a group of atheists or Beaumont city leaders initially blocking police officers from voluntarily participating in Bible studies during their lunch hour.”

When it comes to “In God We Trust,” it is our national motto, but it wasn’t given that status until the 1950s as slap against “godless communism.” Other phrases that were actually used during the founding period, such as E Pluribus Unum (“Out Of Many, One”) and  Novus Ordo Seclorum (“A New Order Of the Ages”) are secular.

As for Patrick’s “war on Christmas” story, we have detailed at length how the so-called “war” is a Religious Right construct intended to fuel “religious persecution” claims and make money. In this specific case, the Orange nativity scene stood on government property for decades. Last year, a group of atheists asked for equal time and sought to put up a sign next to the crèche. When city officials refused, the only option was to remove the nativity. So they did – in keeping with the requirements of the First Amendment.

The Bible-studying cops are permitted to hold study sessions in a police department conference room during their free time. Some officers were under the impression that they could not study the Bible at all on government property, but unsurprisingly Patrick misrepresented the situation. In what the city of Beaumont later called a “misunderstanding,” officers were informed they could not hold Bible study sessions in the more than 30 buildings and facilities owned by the city that are for business-use only. The officers interpreted this, wrongly, to mean they could not study religious texts anywhere during their breaks. The matter has been cleared up.

At the close of his letter, Patrick attempted to outline all the great things he has done in defense of his idea of “religious liberty.” Spoiler: they’re not so great.

“I took a stand to support religious freedoms on each of these issues and previously led the way to have ‘In God We Trust’ permanently placed in the [Texas] Senate chamber, added ‘Under God’ to our state pledge, co-authored the ‘Merry Christmas’ bill to combat political correctness in our schools and established an annual Christmas Tree tradition in the Texas Senate for the first time in at least 70 years.”

All of those things represent government endorsements of belief over non-belief; almost all of them would be upsetting to the Founding Fathers, who took great pains to create a secular government. Each of these actions did nothing to enhance actual religious liberty in Texas. Instead, they pandered to the Religious Right and made non-believers and others feel like outsiders.

Patrick also said he “charged the Senate State Affairs Committee with the task of studying and recommending how the State of Texas should work to affirm the constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty protections of all Texans.”

Well, Mr. Patrick, that is an easy request. All the Senate has to do is nothing since the Constitution already guarantees tremendous religious freedom for all Americans. Of course if you had actually bothered to read the First Amendment you would already know that.