Crazy things keep coming out of Texas (where I once lived decades ago) – the Texas pledge of “one state under God,” public school Bible courses, Religious Viewpoints Anti-discrimination Act and now, defining a fetus (or unborn child to some) as a “person” for purposes of the capital murder statute.
My real concern is not with the bonus for prosecutors — two convictions for one murder. That’s right. Under TX Penal Code 1.07(a)(26), an “‘Individual’ means a human being who is alive, including an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.”
No, my concern is that the Texas legislature routinely drinks Christian right Kool-Aid, which can be seen from above example of its definition of individual being religious-based, not science-based.
Two weeks ago on Nov. 20, a Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Jacob Eguia for capital
murder for causing the death of Ruby Elaine Garcia and her fetus during the same criminal transaction. Eguia was sentenced to life in prison, which was the only possible sentence since the State did not seek the death penalty.
Among other defenses, Eguia filed a motion to quash the indictment against him for causing the death of Garcia’s fetus because the Texas statute that defines an “unborn child” as a “person” for purposes of the capital murder statute is unconstitutional. In particular, he alleged that the definition violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of U.S. Constitution because the definition “has the effect of endorsing religion as it is based solely upon a religious belief that life begins at conception.” (Eguia also complained of a violation of Texas’ constitution – “no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society or mode of worship.” Tex. Const. Art I, § 6.)
In holding that the Texas law defining an “individual” did not violate either the U.S. or Texas Constitutions, the appeals court said: “A statute is not automatically rendered unconstitutional simply because it advances ideals that harmonize with religious ideals. Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 319-20 … (noting that Judeo-Christian religions’ forbiddance of stealing does not preclude state or federal legislatures from outlawing larceny).”
The appeals court also said that Eguia also “fail[ed] to demonstrate how the statute’s principal or primary effect advances religion, or how the statute fosters excessive government entanglement with religion.”
I believe that the appeals court analogy with stealing is misplaced because, unlike stealing, the notion that life begins at conception is uniquely a religious viewpoint.
However, because I am not familiar with the trial record, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on whether or not the defendant sufficiently proved of his Establishment Clause violation claim.
Instead, I’ll close by saying that in our judicial system the deck is stacked heavily against those who claim a violation of the principle of separation of church and state and that complainants probably need two, three or four times as much evidence as they think would be sufficient. What is needed is a smoking gun (so to speak) where there is a record of a religious purpose for enacting the challenged legislation.