Dear Dawg: A local preacher claims that the Texas Constitution requires all school board members to acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being. True?
Dawg: I got a letter from one of our local preachers last week that got my attention. This fella has been here for decades, is well respected and is informally known as The Sinkiller of West Texas. Now, you don’t want to ignore a man like that. The Sinkiller is a good man, but he loves to rail about our “evil” public schools, where God is no longer welcome. His latest claim is that every member of our school board is required to acknowledge, at a minimum, that there is at least some kind of Supreme Being out there. What’s this about? I DON’T SUPPOSE THE SUPERINTENDENT WOULD QUALIFY AS THE “SUPREME BEING”?
DEAR I DON’T SUPPOSE: We know where the Sinkiller got that. He’s not making it up. Let’s take a look at Article I, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution:
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being. (Emphasis added).
That’s what it says. Still.
We used to have a provision in the Education Code that said much the same thing, and applied it to all school employees. Section 4.07 stated that schools could not inquire into the religious beliefs of anyone who sought employment with the school except to ask if the person acknowledged the existence of a Supreme Being. A federal district court in Houston struck this statute down in 1982 in the unreported case of Roe v. Klein ISD. We found a reference to this case in the first edition of The Educator’s Guide to Texas School Law, by Dr. Frank Kemerer (UT Press, 1986). We’re not sure when it disappeared from the Education Code, but it did.
Statements in the Texas Constitution can remain there until repealed by the voters, but if they conflict with federal constitutional requirements, they hold no power. We have a very recent example of this. Article I, Section 32 of the Texas Constitution says that “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.”
It still says that. But county clerks are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
And no, the superintendent will not qualify as a “Supreme Being.”
DAWG BONE: BE CAREFUL WHEN READING THE TEXAS CONSTITUTION.