The Texas Republican Party issued its platform earlier this month, declaring America a “Christian nation” and describing the concept of separation of church and state as a “myth.”
The 31-page platform, adopted by the party’s state convention, carries over language used in the Texas GOP platforms in 2002 and 2004. As in past years, state and national Jewish organizations have condemned the platform, but local Jewish communal officials told the Forward that lobbying to strip the language from the document was not a top community priority.
“I’m not saying it was forgotten, but it probably was, in a sense,” said Randall Czarlinsky, the director of the Houston Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. According to Czarlinsky, Jewish activists in Texas seemed to have exhausted their interest in intra-party jockeying in the 1990s, as they worked “to fight back pro-Palestinian planks in both party platforms.”
Czarlinsky said that in recent years, fighting the Protestant divestment from Israel and working on local issues such as the quality of public education had been greater priorities for the Jewish community.
Under a section titled “Individual Freedom,” the Texas GOP’s platform contains a plank titled “Christian Nation,” which states: “America is a Christian nation, founded on Judeo-Christian principles. We affirm the constitutional right of all individuals to worship in the religion of their choice.” Another plank in the section, titled “Safeguarding Our Religious Liberties,” states, in part, “We pledge to exert our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and dispel the myth of the separation of church and state.”
In response to an inquiry from the Forward about whether she agreed with the planks, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas issued a written statement: “America was founded on Judeo-Christian ethics, but has been open to all religions and creeds. Just as our founders drew inspiration for our Republic from Greece and Rome, they relied upon their Judeo-Christian heritage for moral guidance.
“Our tradition of religious tolerance leads us to reject a state church, but that does not imply intolerance of religion. Quite the contrary, we often lean on religion in the public debate. As a nation, we must realize that the things that unite us greatly outweigh those which divide us.”
Two other leading Texas Republicans, Senator John Cornyn and Governor Rick Perry, and the Republican Jewish Coalition did not return requests for comment.
One Jewish GOP activist who attended the convention, former Harris County Republican Chairman Gary Polland, criticized the religious planks, and worried they could turn off voters who otherwise might support Republicans.
Polland said that items had not engendered any debate at the convention, and that trying to fight the items would have required “a lot of money and effort and time.”
But Polland said that he always had felt welcome as a Jew by state Republicans.
“They believe that when they talk about a Christian nation, they’re not excluding us — they think Jews are part of that,” he said.
“I had support from leading Christian conservatives, and sometimes they prayed for me,” Polland said. “Only one time did someone ask me to accept Jesus.”