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In a first, Texas Boys State votes to secede from Union

The Texas secession movement — in which separatists advocate, sometimes violently, that the Lone Star State become an independent country — has been around in some form or another for about 150 years. Though it appears to have gained some traction recently, it is still widely regarded as a fringe effort that can claim no real victories and would never pass legal muster.

But it recently got a boost from some unlikely supporters: a contingent of high school boys.

Earlier this month, a secession bill won overwhelming support from the mock legislature in Texas Boys State, the American Legion’s summer program where youth leaders create and run their own government, as the Wise County Messenger reported Saturday. The vote, held June 15, marked the first time in the nearly 80 years since the program’s inception in Texas that both chambers of the Texas Boys State legislature voted in favor of seceding from the Union.

Founded by the American Legion in 1935, Boys State operates in nearly every U.S. state and had its first meeting in Texas in 1940. Male high schoolers are nominated to participate in the typically week-long program, in which they elect leaders, debate legislation and hold mock trials. A Girls State program exists for young women.

About 1,100 rising high school seniors gathered in Austin for the program, which ran from June 11 through June 15. After the students were split into two political parties, Nationalist and Federalist, the Federalist Party introduced the secession bill, according to the Texas Boys State News, the program’s blog.

Borrowing language from the Declaration of Independence and the very real Texas secessionist movement that exists in the United States, the bill said that it was the right of Texans, “nay their obligation, to break the chains and throw down the regulations that bind them.”

Per a tweet from one of the attendees, the bill continued: “It is the common belief of this Congress and its constituents that our Republic stands to lose in its relationship with the United States… Texas and her peoples formally recognize and thank our neighbor the United States for her grace and mercy upon our Republic in her time of need. However, we cannot in good conscience continue this tie with our former Mother country. For God and Country, The Republic of Texas hereby Declares her Independence.”

Similar measures had been floated in previous years but none had passed. In 2016, the Houston Chronicle noted that a secession bill won significant support in the Texas Boys State Senate, only to fail in the House by a mere four votes.

If some of the comments surrounding the Texas Boys State 2017 bill are to be taken at face value, it may have been rooted as much in teenage defiance as a sincere desire to see the Lone Star State become a new country with its own constitution. Ahead of the vote, one of the bill’s main backers told Texas Boys State News that “history is looking down upon us and it is our opportunity as Texas Boys State to be the first to secede. It is our opportunity to go down in Texas Boys State history.”

On June 15, the boys marched to the Texas State Capitol to vote on the legislation, according to their blog.

The speaker of the house tapped an attendee named Ty Watson to read the bill on the floor, the Wise County Messenger reported. “It was nerve-racking,” Watson told the newspaper.

The bill won approval in the House and passed in the Senate in a vote of 44-1, with 3 abstentions.

Videos of the scene show the boys erupting in applause when one of the legislators — presumably the House speaker or Senate president — announces the final tally and slams the gavel down.

It was a proud moment for many of them. “Truly iconic. Historic. Never been done before,” one tweeted. “Best Boys State Ever,” wrote another.

Watson and another attendee told the Wise County Messenger the group was buzzing throughout the week about the prospect of seceding. After the bill passed, they learned that the American Legion didn’t take kindly to it.

“The Legioneers were not real happy because they served the U.S. military,” Watson said.

“They frowned upon the secession,” added his friend Charlie Doubrava, “but they understood we were trying to do something that has never been done.”

So should anyone care that the supposed future leaders of the Lone Star State voted to cut ties with the Republic?

One well known constitutional law professor says yes.

Sandy Levinson, who teaches at the University of Texas, argued that the secession vote could be viewed as a symptom of a greater problem — a decline in national unity and sense of purpose that transcends race, religion, sexual orientation and other factors.

In a post for the legal blog Balkinization, Levinson argued American society was becoming more fractured, and pointed to recent polling that showed a drop in the percentage of Americans who said the United States was the “greatest country in the world.” He didn’t criticize the vote, but said only that he was “interested in the boys and their enthusiastic endorsement that America’s second-largest state secede.”

“Are there sufficient social-psychological resources — what Lincoln called the ‘mystic chords of memory’ — to maintain the Union today?” Levinson wrote. “Presumably, the youth of Texas, as represented in Boys State, do not think so.”

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