Discrimination is not a Houston Value

The Most Diverse City in the Country Needs an Equal Rights Ordinance

Houston is the most diverse city in these United States. Just how diverse? We have no racial or ethnic majority. We have one of the largest—and quite frankly, one of the most architecturally breathtaking—Hindu temples in the country. Houston hosts the only livestock show and rodeo where you can hear over 100 languages spoken. We have the highest concentration of refugees in the U.S, from 78 countries around the world. And this year’s Pride Parade boasted a crowd 700,000 strong.

That’s just shy of 10 Reliant Stadiums at capacity.

Given our lively, kaleidoscopic diversity, one would think non-discrimination would be prominently enshrined in municipal law. And it was, for a time, until forces opposed to Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) secured a victory in the Texas Supreme Court to force it onto the ballot in November.

The fight to keep HERO alive is about Houston values—and the principle that everyone should be treated equally and fairly under the law. In order to see that the ordinance remains on the books, we must first understand exactly what it does.

First of all, the anti-discrimination ordinance protects all Houstonians from discrimination, whether they’ve been singled out because of their sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity. It protects veterans who don’t want to be discriminated against because they served their country. It protects pregnant women, the disabled, and the elderly. And without it, a Houston company’s best and most conscientious employee can be legally fired simply because he or she chooses to come out to co-workers.

Of course, some of these categories are protected by other laws, but HERO provides a local venue for resolving discrimination complaints that is timely, effective, and affordable. Without the benefit of HERO, those who are fired or denied housing or public accommodations simply for being who they are literally have to make a federal case out of it. More often than not this process requires a lawyer, and the time it takes to right the wrong—which is by no means a foregone conclusion—is usually measured in years.

While Houston is proud of its diversity, discrimination remains a reality: Between the day HERO was passed and the day it initially went into effect, 54% of the discrimination complaints lodged with the Office of the Inspector General related to race, 17% to gender, 15% to age, and 4% to sexual orientation or gender identity. Our gay, lesbian, and transgender neighbors need the anti-discrimination protections the ordinance brings, but it simply isn’t true that its scope is limited to them. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects everyone.

HERO protects you.

This is why HERO enjoys widespread support from over 80 current or former city officials, from community organizations and non-profits, and over 70 local faith leaders. It has been endorsed by the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston Association of Realtors, Rice University, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the NAACP.

And no wonder. Diversity is one of Houston’s greatest strengths, and it’s essential we do everything in our power to preserve and protect that diversity. HERO promotes what Houstonians value most: fair treatment for all, no matter who you are.

Supreme Court 101: What the Marriage Equality Ruling Teaches Us About Democracy

Now that the dust has settled and the hand-wringing over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges seems mostly to have subsided, it’s worth reflecting on what the case means. In the last month, we’ve heard from pundits and politicians of every stripe, who rushed to explain the decision’s import. For some, the recognition of same-sex marriage in all fifty states ushered in a new era of equality, while others warned that it heralded the end of the Republic.

Of course, the marriage ruling was certainly historic—no one would contest that—but it wasn’t extraordinary. You wouldn’t have known it to listen to the talking heads on TV, but the Supreme Court didn’t do anything unusual when it ruled that same-sex marriage bans violate the Constitution. To understand why, we waded through the hype and the history to get to the heart of the Supreme Court’s role in our constitutional democracy.

Did the Supreme Court ignore the will of the people?

The stakes are too high and the issue too important to simply cede the will of the people to unaccountable justices. –Rick Santorum on Obergefell v. Hodges

No matter how much the Supreme Court seeks to sugarcoat its bitter pill of tyranny, the people of the South will not swallow it.Marvin Griffin, former governor of Georgia, on Brown v. Board of Education

The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution, and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. At its heart, the Constitution is a series of protections that keep government from infringing core freedoms. Some freedoms every American can recite—like freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. Others like the right to be treated equally by government actors and the right not to have liberty abridged without due process may be less well known. But if the majority passes a law that violates any of those freedoms, it’s the Court’s job to strike it down.

So yes, sometimes the Supreme Court ignores the will of the majority in order to protect the constitutional rights of individuals.

This is a feature, not a bug.

But how can the Supreme Court ignore centuries of tradition?

I am disappointed the Supreme Court today chose to change the centuries-old definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. –Rick Perry, on Obergefell v. Hodges

To many people this decision is contrary to a way of life and violates the way in which they have thought since 1619.Cavalier Daily (University of Virginia newspaper) on Brown v. Board of Education

Actually, the Supreme Court does this all the time, once we all realize that what we’ve been doing for centuries violates those rights the Supreme Court is entrusted to protect. Societies evolve, the authors of the Constitution knew that, and they composed a document that would allow for that development. For example, the Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishment”. Once upon a time that did not include pillorying, flogging, branding, and chopping people’s ears off.

Okay, fine…but where can I find marriage equality in the Constitution?

[The Court] fabricated a new constitutional right in 2015. –Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, on Obergefell v. Hodges

The justices produced a non-text-based and generalized right.Catholic Education Resource Center, on Griswold v. Connecticut (recognizing a constitutional right to decide whether and when to have a child and striking down a ban on contraception)

You can’t. But what you will find in the Constitution are the rights to equal protection and due process, which Justice Kennedy cited in his opinion on marriage equality. The Supreme Court didn’t pluck a brand new right out of thin air that allows same-sex couples to marry, but instead applied the rights already guaranteed by the Constitution to marriage bans that were passed in just the last two decades.

I’m fed up with these activist judges. How do you know they didn’t get it wrong?

This is judicial activism at its worst. –Ted Cruz, on Obergefell v. Hodges

[This case] encourages Americans to bypass the ballot and seek to press their political agenda in the courts.J. Jarvie Wilkinson III, on D.C. v. Heller

“Judicial activism” is a term people generally use when they don’t agree with a Supreme Court decision, while “judicial restraint” is the one they use when they do.

But the fact of the matter is that whether they’re exercising “activism” or “restraint”, the Supreme Court does get it wrong sometimes. They got it wrong in Korematsu v. U.S. when they decided that rounding up Japanese Americans for being Japanese was perfectly constitutional. They got it wrong in Minor v. Happersett when they denied women the right to vote. And they got it unanimously wrong in Schenck v. U.S. when they decided that the peaceful distribution of anti-war leaflets was a crime. (A bit of trivia: Schenck brought us the now-famous refrain of “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater”, which refers to that peaceful distribution of anti-war leaflets and not, as one might think, to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.)

Aha! I knew it! Since they sometimes get it wrong, can’t we just ignore them?

One thing I am angry about is this notion of judicial supremacy, where if the court makes a decision, I hear governors and even some aspirants to the presidency say, ‘Well, that’s settled, it’s the law of the land.’ No, it’s not the law of the land. –Mike Huckabee, on Obergefell v. Hodges

I do not recognize, I have never recognized, I cannot recognize that what the Supreme Court says is the law of the land. –Virginia Gov. Lindsay Almond on Brown v. Board of Education

No, you can’t. The Constitution is uncontestably the supreme law of the land, and since the Supreme Court is tasked with interpreting what the Constitution says, Supreme Court decisions are in fact the law of the land.

That doesn’t mean that debate ceases or that the political process is at an end. Sometimes, as debate continues, the Court changes its mind. This can take some time. In Plessy v. Ferguson, for example, the Court decided in 1896 that “separate but equal” racial segregation was constitutional, and only changed its mind sixty years later when it handed down Brown v. Board of Education.

In other cases, we amend the Constitution itself. This is intentionally very hard to do, and requires that just about everybody agree to it. This is how women gained the right to vote in the U.S., incidentally. The Court decided in Minor v. Happersett that it was constitutional to deny women the right to vote, which was the law of the land until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920.

Balderdash! Can’t we just get rid of the Supreme Court and save some money?

If we want to save some money, lets just get rid of the court! –Bobby Jindal, on Obergefell v. Hodges.

First of all, the Supreme Court doesn’t cost that much money, and this year they even volunteered to cut their own budget, which isn’t something you see all that often in Washington. (Charmingly, last year’s budget included the replacement of an air conditioning system that was over seventy five years old, and the only person who knew how to repair it was a retiree in West Virginia.)

Secondly, getting rid of the Supreme Court would mean shredding the Constitution into itty bitty bits.

Third…do you really want to get rid of the Supreme Court? Really? Are you sure there’s nothing you might need the Court’s protection for? What if a judge decides to throw you in jail for filming on a public sidewalk? What if someone sues you over your Yelp review? What if the cops decide to arrest you just for knowing what your rights are? What if the town you live in decides to ban all guns?

The system isn’t perfect, certainly. But sometimes all that’s standing between you and oppression are those “five unelected judges.”

Paxton’s Disastrous Doubling Down

Hot on the heels of Governor Abbott’s disingenuous lead, last Sunday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that is functionally incoherent, willfully misleading, and legally wrong. Were this merely more bluster from an extremist state official unsettled by Friday’s happy turn in the course of American history, we could comfortably ignore him. However, Paxton’s recklessness could lead to ruinous consequences for public officials who might heed his bad advice. For now, it appears as though they will not.

According to Paxton, county clerks in Texas may refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—and judges and justices of the peace may refuse to conduct marriage ceremonies—if doing so would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. To support that position, Paxton surgically excises the one line in the Obergefell ruling that—at a first and very perfunctory glance—seems to give him cover: “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

Of course, that’s not all the ruling says; that’s not even all that particular paragraph of the ruling says, and Paxton seems to place all his hopes in the possibility that we might not bother to read the rest: “The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.” In other words, Americans everywhere still enjoy their fundamental and inviolable right to religious liberty, and may exercise that right to express objections to same-sex marriages as loudly and as often as they like. The first duty of those who serve the State, however—including county clerks, judges, and justices of the peace—is to uphold the law.

And Obergefell is the law.

Paxton’s willful misreading of the Obergefell decision allows him to manufacture a “fundamental dilemma” and a “tension” between the right to equal protection and the right to religious freedom, and then uses that specious analysis to provide clerks and judges with irresponsibly erroneous legal advice. Paxton informs local officials that they may shirk their duties, admits that doing so exposes them to civil litigation, but promises that legions of attorneys stand ready to defend them should they choose to go the distance in the courts.

What Paxton fails to say is that that distance will be both very short and very costly, once those cases are inevitably lost and damages are due. State officials might briefly take comfort in the fact that the Attorney General will do “everything [he] can” to be a “public voice” for those involved in litigation, at least until they realize that Paxton has set them up to stand in front of a target his own office will skillfully avoid.

Thus far, few have been duped by Paxton’s bombast. Legal analysts are seeing the Attorney General’s statement for the untenable temper tantrum that it is, and for the most part local officials have decided to uphold the law, even over their own personal objections. In fact, most Texas counties are doing the right thing, and we are confident that the rest will inevitably understand where their duty lies.

But we’re still in the early days of post-Obergefell America, and Texas state officials have made it clear that they will continue to use trumped-up religious freedom arguments to sustain their own anti-LGBT bigotry. Ultimately they will fail. Texans have already made it quite clear that they don’t share Abbott’s and Paxton’s appetite for discrimination, and we are smart enough to know that religious liberty and human equality need never be at odds with one another.

Our Constitution is big enough for everyone.

The Best and Worst of the 84th

Governor Abbott spent the weekend clearing his desk of all pending legislation, and thus we can finally close the book on Texas’s 84th legislative session. This year’s session wasn’t especially unusual, in that it saw its fair share of “chubbing,” glad-handing, horse-trading, and fist fights. Also typical was the sheer volume of threats leveled against Texans’ civil liberties. Thankfully, most of the worst proposals failed to make it onto the books—while some of the better ones did.

Here’s a rundown of some of the issues that mattered for civil liberties:

LGBT Rights:  The Texas legislature faced a serious quandary this year. On the one hand, some of our politicians really, really despise the idea of LGBT equality—more now than ever, with the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision due any day—and are terrified of the possibility that it will become a reality. On the other, Indiana’s “religious refusal” debacle demonstrated just how catastrophic state-sponsored discrimination is for business.

Against that backdrop, LGBT rights fared well this session. Our LGBT Equality Coalition rose to the challenge, and Texas business leaders spoke out against discriminatory laws. Legislators introduced more than 20 bills and two constitutional amendments designed to enshrine discrimination into state law, but in the end none of them passed.  The only LGBT-related bill to become law (signed by Abbott with great fanfare) merely reaffirms that clergy can refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs, a right already guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Reproductive Rights: Not satisfied with passing the infamous HB 2 in 2013 (now before the Supreme Court) and the closure of more than half the states abortion clinics, extremist legislators tried to double down.  They introduced measures to eliminate an exception to the state’s 20-week abortion ban for severe fetal abnormalities and to block insurance from being used to pay for the termination of a pregnancy. While both of those measures failed, others did not.

In a particularly mean-spirited attack, the legislature revamped the “judicial bypass” process, making it even more difficult for young women who are victims of neglect, abuse, or sex trafficking to access abortion services. To add insult to injury, politicians also blocked access to breast and cervical cancer screenings for patients of Planned Parenthood, and diverted more state funding to discredited “crisis pregnancy centers,” whose literature has been described by the Texas Medical Association as “needlessly graphic” and “factually inaccurate.”

Criminal Justice:  Groups from every segment of the political spectrum united to reform the state’s criminal justice system. The Smart-on-Crime coalition helped enact a series of measures designed to streamline the penal code, reduce recidivism, improve the reintegration process, and give former convicts a better chance for success in life after prison. Disadvantaged school children need no longer fear a fast track to the prison system, now that truancy is no longer a crime. School police officers will receive specialized training to help them better meet the needs of the students they serve and protect. Prisoners destined for solitary will now undergo mental health screenings.

Immigration: The rights of the undocumented fared better than one might have expected in the current political climate.  For one, the fact that Texas DREAMers will continue to have access to in-state university tuition was welcome news. Additionally, two attempts to wrest immigration enforcement from the federal government were thwarted: the Interstate Border Enforcement Compact, designed to allow member states to coordinate border control efforts independent of the federal government, and the Sanctuary Cities bill, which would have required local law enforcement entities to enforce immigration law at the expense of their own local priorities.

However, one immigration measure that enjoyed broad support in the legislature was passed into law. A sweeping border protection bill that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, HB 11 shows that our legislature only embraces small government and fiscal conservatism when it concerns tax rates and deregulation, but not so much when civil rights, police overreach, mission creep, and government surveillance are on the table. The law sets up a centralized surveillance center, allows for southbound checkpoints of American citizens still in the U.S., and implements a hiring surge of officers, which has proven a reliable method for fomenting corruption and abuse in law enforcement.

The bottom line: In spite of some victories for civil liberties this legislative session, lesbian, gay and transgender Texans can still be fired, evicted, or denied services in much of the state, regardless of whether the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality. Texas women seeking abortion access find ever more obstacles in their path, with many more clinics forced to close if the Supreme Court refuse to step in. We still have one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in the country. Private prisons continue to clamor for more inmates, and the state still has heavy incentives to provide them. And legislators continue to push for proposals that would punish immigrants for seeking a better life.

The legislature reconvenes in 2017, and until then there is much work to do.

Robertson: Proposed ordinance doesn’t create conflict

Equal rights statute preserves social, religious liberties

Originally posted on the Houston Chronicle blog.

Click the image to send a message to the Houston City Council

In the long hours of debate over Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, we have heard a great deal about the faith of Houstonians. Many have cited their religious beliefs as the reason they support the ordinance. Others have invoked religion in opposition. This plurality of opinion is a strong testament to the power of religion to shape our lives and our values.

But in framing their opposition to the ordinance in religious terms, some have argued there is a tension between two American values: equality for all and religious liberty. They claim the ordinance threatens their religious liberty as business owners because it prohibits them from discriminating against customers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

This argument is based on a faulty premise. Under our constitutional system, religious liberty does not mean, and has never meant, that if people of faith object to a law, their personal beliefs trump other societal values.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, the first liberty protected in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. From our country’s founding, we have guarded the right to believe and to worship – or not – according to individual conscience without interference from the state.

The result is that religion flourishes in our society as in no other, as demonstrated by Texas’ own example. According to the Texas Almanac, Texas communities include Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sikhs and Unitarian Universalists. Each adherent enjoys the right to participate in civic life without fear of being marginalized or excluded because of government favoritism for any one sect.

The mayor’s proposed ordinance is consistent with that robust tradition of religious liberty. In fact, the ordinance protects the free exercise of religion by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion. Under the ordinance, people cannot be fired from a job, denied an apartment or refused service at the corner store because of their religion.

Moreover, recognizing the proper limits on government’s ability to intrude on matters of faith, the ordinance excludes houses of worship and religiously affiliated institutions from adhering to the non-discrimination provisions. Churches, synagogues and mosques remain free to determine hiring practices and other internal matters according to the tenets of their respective faiths.

Which brings us to the faulty premise upon which the religious liberty objection to the ordinance is based. The ordinance prohibits discrimination broadly – on the basis of race, age, sex, disability, veterans’ status, religion and more – in an attempt to promote equality for all. For some, this step toward equality, particularly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Houstonians, is inconsistent with a personal religious belief.

But a law that conflicts with a personal religious belief, no matter how deeply held, is not a violation of religious liberty. Nothing in our Constitution gives people of faith a special exemption from following laws meant to protect everyone. Nor could it. In a country with as many diverse religious traditions as ours, imagine what would happen if each of us could choose, according to our individual beliefs, which laws to follow and which to ignore.

The proposed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance creates no conflict between equality and religious liberty. The ordinance claims no power to compel any of us to relinquish a sincerely held religious belief, to endorse something we believe profoundly to be immoral or to offer services of which we disapprove. That is not the province of law.

The only thing that the ordinance does or could require is that, whatever our personal beliefs, in our business dealings, we don’t treat people differently for being who they are. If that requirement seems familiar, maybe it’s because so many faith traditions subscribe to the Golden Rule.

All of us should respect the competing points of view expressed as City Council debates the ordinance. But none of us should forget that the principle of equality for all is as essential to the American character as religious liberty. To our good fortune, the proposed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance preserves both.

Recap: Compilation of #HOUequality tweets

At a special City Council hearing on Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance that took place Wed., April 29, most residents who testified voiced their unequivocal support for the ordinance. Just 19 people spoke against.

Attend the public meetings on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. To sign up to speak at the Public Session on Tuesday, May 6, you must do so before 1 p.m. the day of the meeting by:

  • Calling the City Secretary’s office at 832.393.1100
  • Sending an email to citysecretary@houstontx.gov
  • Coming by the office on the public level of the City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby, Houston 77002 by 1:30 p.m. that

Before you testify please download our guide (PDF), which is full of helpful tips for giving public testimony. If you can’t make it in person, tell your story online. You can submit text or a video link.

Show your support on social media!

You have the right to make a difference

By Gislaine Williams, ACLU of Texas Outreach Coordinator

We are fast approaching the start of the 2013 Texas legislative session. Starting January 8 through the end of May, Texas lawmakers will meet in Austin for the 83rd Legislature. They will be proposing, debating, and passing laws that will impact all of us.

As Texans, we have the right and responsibility to be a part of this political process. You can make a difference by raising your voice to demand policies that will make a positive change in our communities. Learn how to become a grassroots activist at Community Watchdog TX.

The first step is to educate yourself. Become familiar with the major issues in Texas. Learn about the legislative process and get to know your representatives. Our toolkits provide you an overview of the critical issues facing our state:

  • Criminal Justice TX: Learn about mass incarceration, the rise of for-profit prisons, and the death penalty.
  • Educate, Don’t Incarcerate:  An overview of school discipline policies pushing students out of school.
  • Religious Freedom: A look at how our religious freedoms are threatened in Texas.
  • Immigrants’ Rights:  Find out how we’re working to reclaim the civil rights of all Texans, regardless of immigration status.
  • Find out who your representatives are here.
  • Learn how a bill becomes a law here.

Contact your legislator. There are a number of ways you can contact your representative about an issue. You can write a letter, telephone, or set-up a meeting in  the local district office. Use our lobbying guides to learn how.

Ready to meet with your legislator? We can help you schedule and prepare for your local meeting. Just email gwilliams@aclutx.org to get started.

Lobby with us in Austin! The ACLU of Texas will host our first ever Symposium & Lobby Day in Austin Feb.  10-11. On Feb.  10, you will hear from advocates and policy experts working on criminal justice and immigrants’ rights issues.  The following day we will go to the state capitol to meet with representatives to talk to them about the major civil liberties issues in our state. Sign-up today to receive more information.

Stay involved. Join the Community Action Network to get updates on ways you can advocate for change this legislative session.

Who hates Christmas? Not us!

By Dione Friends
Online Media Coordinator

Get the facts about the ACLU of Texas and Christmas, so that you can avoid bearing false witness and (should you so desire) be empowered to set the record straight. Merry Christmas from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas!

Video: The fictitious “War on Christmas”

Please note that by playing this clip YouTube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see YouTube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU of Texas’ privacy statement, click here.

Recent ACLU cases defending the Constitutional rights of Christians

The ACLU of Texas filed an amicus brief in support of students in the Plano school district who wanted to include pencils with religious messages (like ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’) in holiday gift bags.

The ACLU of Texas and the National ACLU filed a brief in support of a Texas state prisoner seeking damages after prison officials denied him the opportunity to participate in Christian worship services.

The ACLU of Texas filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Christian pastor and his faith-based rehabilitation facility in Sinton, Texas. The ACLU urged the court to reverse a decision that had prohibited the pastor from operating his rehabilitation program near his church and also had sharply limited the reach of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In June 2009, the Texas Supreme Court agreed and ruled in favor of the pastor.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Texas filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Texas Supreme Court in support of mothers who had been separated from their children by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). The DFPS seized more than 450 children from their homes in Eldorado, Texas, following vague allegations about child abuse by some members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While fully supporting the state’s commitment to protecting children from abuse, the ACLU argued that Texas law and the U.S. Constitution required that the children be returned unless the state could provide the requisite evidence of abuse. In May 2008, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled, consistent with the ACLU position, that the state must return the children to their homes pending further investigation of allegations of abuse.

If you would like to find out more about the ACLU’s work on behalf of religious freedom, please check out this website.

Take Action: We rely on people like you to be our eyes and ears on the ground. Real, lasting change can only happen when we stand up for our civil liberties, one person, one community at a time. Join the Community Action Network and fight on behalf of religious freedom.

Religious Freedom Quiz: Think you know all about the role of religious liberty in American history? Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge of our Founders’ views on religion.

Schools In Texas Routinely Violate Constitutional Protections For Religious Freedom

By Dotty Griffith
Public Education Director

This week we released a report documenting that school districts all over the state routinely ignore the Constitution when it comes to religious freedom in public schools. Examples are detailed in, “At the Mercy of the Majority: Attacks on Religious Freedom in Texas Public Schools in the Decade after Santa Fe v. Doe.” Moreover, Texans who complain publicly are often subjected to ridicule and threats.

Check out our coverage:

Fox News 26 Houston

KUHF FM Houston

Texas News Service

According to the report, “The ACLU of Texas receives dozens of complaints every year from students, parents, and teachers across Texas reporting that local public schools violate students’ religious freedom in a myriad of ways: prohibiting students from wearing religious attire, injecting sectarian religious views into classroom instruction, and even endorsing and requiring student prayer.

“Yet most of the complainants are afraid of speaking out, even with the Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court on their side. They fear if they go public with their concerns, their children will face retaliation at school. They fear social stigma in their towns. They fear loss of their jobs. They fear violence,” the report concluded.

Schools named in the report include:

Alief ISD p. 22
Athens ISD p. 46
Brazosport ISD p. 32
Brownsville ISD p. 21
Celina ISD p. 26, 32
Cleburne ISD p. 32, 42
Clint ISD p. 20
Cypress-Fairbanks ISD p. 30, 32
Dallas ISD p. 21, 44
Dayton ISD p. 28, 32
Deer Park ISD p. 28
Ector County ISD p. 32, 35
El Paso ISD p. 25
Grand Prairie ISD p. 25
Fort Bend ISD p. 22
Fredericksburg ISD p. 32, 42
Honda ISD p. 26
Humble ISD p. 26, 28
Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD p. 45
Irving ISD p. 32, 44
Joshua ISD p. 32
King HS, Corpus Christi ISD p. 29
Liberty-Eylau ISD p. 41
Lubbock ISD p. 35
Lufkin ISD p. 32, 43
Magnolia ISD p. 25, 27, 32
Nacogdoches ISD p. 32, 40
Navasota ISD p. 41-42
North Lamar ISD p. 46
Panhandle ISD p. 28, 32
Rockwall ISD p. 41
Round Rock ISD p. 31
Socorro ISD p. 25, 47
Somerset ISD p. 20
Spring ISD p. 20
Texas City ISD p. 22
Willis ISD p. 32, 35
Wylie ISD p. 32
Ysleta ISD p. 45

Do minors have fewer rights than adults? Take the youth rights quiz

Find out what the law says about praying in school, punishment at school for saying something on Facebook, and handling police encounters.

Take the quiz to test your knowledge. Then, as you go through the answers, find out what the ACLU of Texas is doing to educate youth about their rights.

1. A school district that allows for corporal punishment cannot discipline a student in that manner without a parent’s written consent.

a. True

b. FalseIf a school district agrees to allow corporal punishment, a school within that district is permitted to physically discipline a student unless that student’s parent or guardian expressly opts out in writing before the beginning of each school year.

2. School administrative staff and police officers must receive training about student mental health and suicide prevention.

a.True – Thanks to a new law in Texas, all school districts must provide for training of all teachers, administrators, counselors, nurses, social workers, law enforcement officers, and all other staff on how to recognize signs of mental health issues and intervene early and appropriately.

b. False

3. When a student is the victim of bullying, a school:

a. Must notify the parents of the bullying victim

b. Must notify the parents of the bully

c. May handle the matter internally

d. Both a. & b. – House Bill 1942, which will go into effect as law this fall, requires school officials to provide for the timely notification of both students’ parents.

4. Can the school punish a student for something he or she says on Facebook?

a. Yes

b. No

c. Maybe – Students have a First Amendment right of free speech, but it has certain limits. Schools may be able to censor or punish students for cyberspeech if it is part of a school project, uses school computers, is accessed from a school computer lab, or if it is materially disruptive, vulgar, threatening, or advocates illegal drug use. However, the Supreme Court has said that political speech is “at the core of what the First Amendment is designed to protect,” and students generally have the right to state their political opinions in a non-disruptive manner.

5. When addressing an incident of bullying that results in school disruption, a school is required to consider whether a victim was acting in self-defense when determining the appropriate punishment for those involved.

A. True – House Bill 1942 also prohibits a student from being punished if he or she was reacting in self-defense to an act of bullying.

B. False

6. Do students have the right to pray in school?

a. No, because the ACLU will file a lawsuit to stop them.

b. Yes, in most circumstances. – Students have the right to pray at school, whatever their religion or religious denomination, as long as they do not disrupt the instructional or other activities of the school. A valedictorian or salutatorian may even include a prayer or religious message in their graduation speech. The school cannot compel or sponsor student prayer, however, or set aside time for prayer during the course of any school event or activity. Prayer is an individual right, and it may not be restricted or coerced by the school or any school official.

7. Can school officials search a student’s locker without the student or parent’s consent?

a. Yes, any time they want and for any reason.

b. No, they are never permitted to search a student’s locker without that student’s consent.

c. Yes, but the search must be reasonable and related to a suspected violation of the school code or the penal law. – Under Texas law, students do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their lockers. The school technically owns each locker and does not need a student’s consent before conducting a search. At the same time, the search must be reasonable and related to the suspected disciplinary violation that led to the search. For example, in Shoemaker v. State, the Beaumont Court of Appeals found that when a student was suspected of stealing credit cards, a nonconsensual, warrantless search of her locker for evidence of the theft was reasonable. In contrast, in Coronado v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that when a student was suspected of skipping school, a search of his locker for contraband was unreasonable under the circumstances.

8. Can minors obtain contraception without the consent of a parent or guardian?

a. Yes. A student has the right to obtain any over-the-counter or prescription contraception available to adults.

b. Yes, but with some limitations. – As a general rule, minors over the age of 16 do not need consent to buy any over-the-counter form of birth control. Prescription contraception, however, normally requires the consent of a parent or guardian.

c. No. Students do not have any right to contraception without parental consent.

9. If a school administrator wants to question a student about a crime or a violation of school rules, she must first recite the student’s Miranda rights (i.e., that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law, etc.).

a. True

b. False – Unless the police are involved in a student’s questioning or detention, a student is not “in custody” so as to trigger his or her Miranda rights. As long as the administrator is acting within the scope of his official duties in questioning the student, he is not legally obligated to “Mirandize” the student.

10. Do minors have fewer rights than adults when they are stopped by the police?

a. Yes

b. No – While school administrators have greater leeway than law enforcement to question and search students on campus, police are held to the same legal standards when stopping minors and adults. This is true whether the stop occurs on- or off-campus.