A Southern Baptist Congressman from Texas has taken to Twitter to attack a group of Texas pastors advocating for public education.
Chip Roy, who represents Texas’ 21st Congressional district, is a member of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin. Hyde Park is a large conservative church whose pastor, Kie Bowman, currently serves as president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a breakaway group from the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Roy is a far-right Republican who also has a history of opposing some of former President Donald Trump’s greatest lies. However, he has opposed COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates, advocated anti-vax conspiracies and joined the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert in flaunting mask requirements in the U.S. House chamber. And last year, Roy was one of only 14 Republicans to vote against the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which passed 415-14.
On Feb. 2, Roy took up a Twitter campaign against Pastors for Texas Children, a diverse coalition of Texas pastors and lay leaders who advocate for public schools. The group is led by Charles Foster Johnson, a Baptist pastor who lives in Fort Worth.
What appears to have set off Roy’s tirade is a social media post by Johnson’s advocacy group that said in a meme: “There’s an ouch in every voucher” and added in text: “Texas has had #SchoolChoice for decades. Any parent is perfectly free to private or home school their children. 10% so choose. 90% choose #txed schools. We are FOR school choice! It’s school choice VOUCHERS that spend your tax dollars on private schools that we oppose. #txlege.”
To which Roy replied: “So, when a family is stuck in a school teaching their child there is no God, America is evil, they are racist, fossil fuels are evil, & heather has 12 mommies… all against their values – you say ‘suck it up, because we say so.’ Yeah – that’s ‘choice.’ #TakeBackOurSchools.”
And then in a second tweet, Roy added: “Immorality is a bunch of Pastors running around lying to people about the goals of school choice, trapping the poorest Texans in schools with no choice, & denying the reality of court-ordered removal of God from schools while forcing anti-American CRT education on our kids.”
Roy’s tweets appear to conflate or misrepresent several issues. The 1989 book Heather Has Two Mommies was one of the first children’s book addressing LGBTQ families to gain wide attention — and wide criticism. Further, there has been no “court-ordered removal of God from schools,” a possible reference to the 1962 Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale that declared it unconstitutional for public schools to mandate official sectarian prayers. And the nature of “CRT” or Critical Race Theory is a highly contested issue currently being used nationwide to stir up angry parents to storm school board meetings to protest the teaching of America’s history of race and slavery.
Johnson, head of Pastors for Texas Children, called Roy’s tweet storm “a naked and crass political strategy to attack public schoolteachers and advance a partisan platform, a highly partisan platform, against the very people who serve Christ’s least of these all day long every day, our poorest children.”
A string of angry comments on Roy’s Twitter post confirmed Johnson’s assumption, as teachers and parents piled on to condemn Roy for not understanding public education.
Also, Roy “knows, as do the people of his far-rightwing fringe political position, that anti-American and racist and extreme sexual politics are not advanced in any public school classroom,” Johnson said. “But why miss an opportunity to advance one’s political ambitions, even if it is at the expense of these godly servants?”
Further, Johnson explained of the Congressman: “He’s the one who trolled us; we didn’t troll him.”
Pastors for Texas Children has steadfastly opposed taxpayer-funded vouchers for private religious schools on the basis of church-state separation and because of the financial loss vouchers take on already underfunded public schools.
Ironically, Roy’s own home church launched a private school in 1980 that currently is embroiled in a bitter controversy with the church over governance, facilities usage and accreditation. The Christian prep school offers a tuition-based alternative to local public schools. It charges $14,000 per year for elementary education and $20,000 a year for high school education.
Roy and other proponents of vouchers for years have tried — mostly unsuccessfully — to divert funding from public education to vouchers parents could use to pay private school tuition.
“We now have a major party and a major constituency within a major party that has given up on public education,” Johnson charged. “They have no program, no vision. These people are destroyers. They will stop at nothing to implement their libertarian vision. … There is zero concern for communal stability, the care for my neighbor’s children, the conservative value of self-determination, creating a trained workforce, finding our military leaders who come out of public schools, civic virtue, civic responsibility.”
Johnson said he simply does not believe that Rep. Roy “suddenly cares about poor children in public schools.” Roy and his far-right colleagues “are people who would deny health care, affordable housing and food support to the poor. And now they care about poor children in public schools? No.”
Both Roy and Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott are running for reelection this year, and both are incorporating conservative parents’ fears about public education and race into their campaigns.
In late January, Abbott introduced his “Parental Bill of Rights” that is chock-full of conservative evangelical and conservative Republican talking points, largely framed around so-called Critical Race Theory, banning library books and giving individual parents unfettered say over school curricula. Abbott has pledged to introduce this bill of rights as an amendment to the Texas Constitution.
Other Republican legislators in Texas — as well as Abbott — have called for banning a large number of books from school libraries, even calling some of them “pornographic.” Chief among those rallying parental concern about “pornographic” books in public schools is state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who issued a list of 850 titles he says need to be purged from school libraries.
Krause’s list targets books he believes could cause students to feel “guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” An analysis of the list finds it focuses on books that teach about student rights, race, gender and human sexuality.
“Public education in Texas is about employing otherwise unemployable adults, not educating kids.”
Michael Quinn Sullivan, leader of the far-right advocacy group Empower Texans and publisher of the Texas Scorecard website, drew harsh backlash and ridicule after a Jan. 8 tweet in which he said: “A reminder that ‘public education’ is a babysitting service offered at the convenience of the government employees. Public education in Texas is about employing otherwise unemployable adults, not educating kids.”
On election night 2020, Sullivan endorsed and praised Roy as his favored kind of Republican, saying his reelection “prove(s) Republicans can vote as solid conservatives, even if in a ‘swing’ seat, and win.”
In that race, Roy withstood a challenge from former Texas senator and one-time gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, with 52% of the vote going to Roy, 45% to Davis and 2.6% to two other distant candidates.
Private school vouchers as civil rights? Baloney! | Opinion by Charles Foster Johnson