A disagreement by any other name…

by Ashley Bean Thornton

I visited the Texas Capitol the other day.  I’ve been before as a tourist and as part of a group visiting for “Waco Day,” but this was the first time I went with my own agenda.  I am deeply opposed to SB 1515 which would require the Ten Commandments to be posted in all Texas Public School classrooms.   I went to the Capitol to express my opposition.

This whole getting-more-involved-in-politics thing has been a learning experience.  For one thing, I have started poking around on the Texas Legislature Online website. I learned that there are video archives of the committee meetings and hearings for both the house and the senate.  I have never attended a committee meeting or a hearing, so it was fascinating to watch the videos and see how the process works.

It struck me as I watched the hearings regarding SB 1515 and listened to the testimony on both sides, that there are different kinds of disagreements.  Even though they sometimes overlap, it might be helpful to differentiate between them.

Fundamental disagreements – In the example of SB 1515, a fundamental disagreement might be “I do not believe the state should establish a religion.  You believe the United States is/should be a Christian Nation.”

Disagreements of degree – An example of this might be, we both agree there should be separation of church and state, but we disagree on where to draw the line between one person’s right to freely express their religion, and another person’s right to be protected from having a particular religion or religious doctrine imposed upon them by the state.

At first, I thought my disagreement with the proponents of SB 1515 was a disagreement of degree.   After watching the hearings, especially the Senate hearing, I now believe I have a fundamental disagreement with them.

My impression in listening to Senator Phil King explain SB 1515, Senator Brandon Creighton respond to the testimony presented in favor of the bill, and Senator Donna Campbell defend the bill is that they believe the United States either is, or should be, a “Christian Nation.” The whole “separation of church and state” idea is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the constitution that they are working heroically to correct.

I fundamentally disagree. I do not believe the United States has ever been, or ever should be a “Christian Nation.”  That might seem like a funny thing for a Christian to say, but it is grounded in my faith and my understanding of how faith works.

The reason I put the words “Christian Nation” in quotes is because I do not believe there is any such thing as a “Christian Nation.”  I certainly believe there are Christians. I believe I am one. But, I believe faith is ultimately personal.  I don’t believe the adjective “Christian” can be applied correctly to a group noun like “nation.”

Individual people have faith – a nation does not have a faith.  It’s easy enough to say you are a “Christian Nation” until it comes time to make any decision or take any action as a group.  Once you decide to do something as a group, you have to wrestle with the question of whose version of Christianity will prevail. Once you decide on the official “national” version of Christianity, what happens to people who believe differently?

It’s not like the idea of a “Christian Nation” hasn’t been tried before. Most nations claimed to be “Christian Nations” — or nations of one religion or another — until the United States came along.  If you have even the most basic knowledge of American history, you know that the Pilgrims (Christians) came to the new world to escape religious persecution from the Church of England (also Christians).  In other words, in the supposedly “Christian Nation” of England in the 1600’s, disagreements about whose version of Christianity would prevail as the official “national” version got very nasty.

Christians were being whipped, incarcerated, and sometimes burned at the stake in England because they didn’t believe correctly according to the official national version of Christianity.  This (arguably un-Christlike) persecution wasn’t carried out by agnostics or non-Christians, but by their fellow Christians.  The officially sanctioned Christians no doubt sincerely believed that persecuting these “separatists” was needed to protect their “Christian Nation.”  No doubt they believed they were doing the will of God.

And that’s the problem with the idea of a “Christian Nation.” None of us knows the will of God perfectly – but we often believe that we do.  Based on that misguided belief we are tempted to impose what we believe to be the will of God on others.  We even tell ourselves that this is because we love them – it is for their own good.  Establishing a state religion is a manifestation of giving in to this temptation.

The founding fathers did not give in to this temptation, thank God!

All this talk of persecution and temptation might seem like an extreme response to a bill that simply proposes we require a poster of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms in Texas.  It’s certainly not the Ten Commandments themselves that are the problem. It’s not the poster that is the problem.  It’s the presumption that it is OK to use the law of the land to require that poster.  I think the proposers of SB 1515 presume that the United States either is or should be a “Christian Nation.”   I think that if they are successful with this bill, that presumption will be reinforced and those who share that presumption will continue to propose bill after bill to shape Texas – and by extension the whole country – into a “Christian Nation” that reflects their particular version of Christianity.  I think that is a very bad idea.

We are not a “Christian Nation.”   First of all, we are not a nation made up of Christians.  We are a nation of citizens of every different religious and non-religious persuasion.

But even if we were a nation of all Christians, I believe the notion of a “Christian Nation” is still a dangerous and bad idea.  There is no one “orthodox” version of Christianity. Whose version of Christianity would prevail?  Yours? Mine? What would happen to people whose conscience and relationship with God leads them to believe something other than the official national version?  Let’s not find out.


Here’s a link to the Senate Hearing where SB 1515 was discussed: Senate Committee on Education (Part I) – Apr 5th, 2023 (granicus.com) – Discussion of SB 1515 starts at about 1:30.

Here’s a link to the House Hearing where SB 1515 was discussed: Public Education – May 2nd, 2023 (granicus.com) – Discussion of SB 1515 starts at about 27:12


If you oppose SB1515, I invite you add your name to this letter, or to contact your state representatives and express your opposition directly to them.  Thank you!


  1. Cassy_burleson@baylor.edu on May 14, 2023 at 8:48 pm


  2. Margo Pearson on May 16, 2023 at 1:47 pm

    For that matter, the Catholics and Protestants have different versions of the Ten Commandments. It seems to be unspoken that they will use the Protestant version. And since it comes from the Old Testament, there may be a different version for the Jewish faith. I don’t know that. But already differences.

Leave a Comment