Women against Woman

What counts more: The fact that you’re a conservative or the fact that you’re a woman?  In Texas, conservative women seem to vote as conservatives first and women second.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling reveals that Texas women prefer conservative (male) gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott over liberal (female) candidate Wendy Davis.

There’s no doubt about the relative ideology of the two candidates.  Attorney General Abbott has consistently run as the conservative choice.  So much so that the liberal Texas watchdog group Texas Freedom Network refers to Abbott as an “extremist.”  And Davis has been called a “liberal folk hero” for her inspiring personal story and ferocious filibustering of an anti-abortion bill.

But when it comes to voting, more Texas women prefer Abbott.  According to a poll of 559 registered voters conducted between April 10-13 (margin of error +/- 4.1%), Abbott has a 49 to 41 percent lead among women.  About a third of women had a favorable image of Davis, while almost half had an unfavorable opinion.

Of course, this might not be a simple matter of conservatism trumping gender.  Abbott has a much longer record in Texas politics.  It would make sense for him to crush any opponent, no matter what gender.  And it’s silly to think that there is a single “women’s” position on issues such as abortion, education, or the economy.

Nevertheless, conservative politicians have struggled to fight the image that they are conducting a “War on Women.”  It doesn’t help when blundermouthed GOP leaders such as Todd Akin represent conservatism in the minds of many voters.

This news from Texas shows that conservatives can win among female voters.  In Texas, it seems, women voters put their conservatism first, their gender second.




Guns and Bibles

School needs more of both.  At least according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

In their continuing series of year-end quotations from conservatives, the Texas Freedom Network Insider publicized this gem from Abbott’s Facebook page:

Source: Greg Abbott

Source: Greg Abbott

For those of us who are trying to understand the intellectual world of educational conservatism, Abbott’s plea is a good place to start.  The give-and-take of comments that accompanied this eye-catching poster sums up lots of the perennial debate in school culture wars.

As one back-and-forth had it,

Person 1: Satan is having a POW-WOW in our country right now….the Anti-Christ is alive and well! WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

Person 2: Good they should not be taught in school. Bible is mythology and learn to shoot at a gun range.

Abbott’s call for more Bibles and more guns in schools may seem shocking to progressives like me, but it seems many conservatives want both.  Especially after each school shooting, we hear calls for more armed guards to protect the innocent.  And of course there is never any lack of tumult for increasing the use of Bibles with America’s public school students.

Here’s a question for all you readers out there: For those agree with Abbott’s call for more Bibles and guns in schools, which should come first?  That is, if you had to pick, which would improve schools more, guns or Bibles?

And for those who are shocked with Abbott’s post, here’s a very different question: what are you more scared of, more Bibles or more guns in public schools?


Cheering for Jesus in a Public School

Source: KNUE

Can they or can’t they?

No one seems too sure of the situation in Kountze, Texas.  In this town of around 2,000, high-school cheerleaders have attracted attention for their religious banners at school football games.

In late September, the district superintendent banned the explicitly Christian banners, under pressure from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The cheerleaders sued.  The latest decision has been that the cheerleaders can continue to display the banners while the wheels of Constitutional justice grind along.

The case demonstrates the ferocious complexity of school-prayer rules and traditions.  The cheerleaders seem entirely oblivious to the Constitutional issues.  In interviews, they tend to hurt their own legal case by stating such things as “It’s our religion and we want to portray that.”  Or this gem about the complainants, “They can be offended, because that’s their right.”

There is not much doubt of the facts of the case.  The banners are obviously and designedly Christian.  They bear such Biblical phrases as the following:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens! Phil 4:13.”

“If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31.”

“But thanks be to God which gives us Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:57.”

Image Source: Los Angeles Times

The SCOTUS precedents in this sort of case are fairly clear.  The most obvious precedent is Santa Fe v. Doe (2000), the famous football-game-prayer case.  In that case, the Court ruled that a prayer at a high school football game, even when led by students, implies school endorsement of religion.

Lawyers in this case are keenly aware of the precedent.  The cheerleaders’ lawyers, therefore, emphasize the fact that this cheer group is not a school-sponsored organization.  They have no coach, they have no school-provided budget.  In essence, the cheerleaders claim that theirs is purely private speech.  If so, they would have a strong case for passing Constitutional muster.  Their lawyers have also cited the SCOTUS precedent of Tinker v. Des Moines, in which student protest-armbands against the Vietnam War were ruled protected free speech.

The school district has made the predictable counter-argument.  The cheer team, the district has argued, represents the school at a public function.  Cheerleaders must sign a “cheerleaders’ constitution,” which includes a pledge to represent the school well.  As district attorney Tom Brandt argued, “This is government speech. It’s on public property. The cheerleaders represent the school.”

This case also demonstrates the fact that public schooling in America is fractured into what political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer have called “Ten Thousand Democracies.”   Regardless of SCOTUS decisions or state education policy, local school districts often support policies that represent the majority views of local communities.  Arguments in favor of such policies are usually framed in terms of the will of the majority.  As one of the cheerleaders insisted, “so far there hasn’t been any opposition to what we’re doing. Nothing but support.”  Such has been the case for much of the history of religion in public schools.  Local schools tend to endorse and embody local traditions.  Many of those traditions, like explicitly Christian prayer at football games, seem to imply an official endorsement of a particular religion.

It has often required outside intervention to draw attention to these continuing traditions.  In this case, that pressure came from Madison, Wisconsin, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

And school prayer has often, as in this case, proven to be enormously popular.  In this case, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has publicly supported the cheerleaders.  And the Facebook page set up in their support looks ready to top the 50,000 friends mark.

So, whether or not the Kountze cheerleaders can or can’t lead prayers at football games, they are.  Whether or not they will be allowed to continue will likely hinge on whether or not their activities are seen as school-sponsored, or private.