AUSTIN - Civil and religious liberties advocates today are warning that 17 bills filed for the current Texas legislative session masquerade as protections for “religious freedom” while opening the door to widespread discrimination and disregard of laws that should be equally applicable to all Texans. Two of the bills are set for public hearings in House and Senate committees this week.
Together the 17 bills would allow government officials, private individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBT people in virtually all aspects of their lives. Some are so broad that they also create conflicts with established civil rights protections. For example, business owners and student organizations on college campuses could use their personal religious beliefs as justification to discriminate against people of other faiths, women and even racial and ethnic minorities.
Many of the bills also allow individuals to use their personal religious beliefs to refuse to obey other laws they don’t like but that apply to everyone else.
The House State Affairs Committee is set today to hear public testimony on one of these religious refusal bills. HB 3859 would allow child welfare service providers that contract with the state to use taxpayer money to discriminate against LGBT individuals and families in foster care, adoption and other services. It would also authorize providers to use religion to deny reproductive health care to a teen in their care, regardless whether the teen shares those religious beliefs.
The Senate State Affairs Committee is set Thursday to hear testimony on SB 522, which would allow county clerks and other public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to couples to whom they have religious objections.
Kathy Miller, president, Texas Freedom Network
“These religious refusal bills radically redefine a fundamental right by allowing religion as a justification to discriminate or refuse to obey laws you don’t like. The authors of these bills don’t even seem to care that their legislation could also create serious conflicts with established civil rights protections based on race, gender and even religion itself. Their bills essentially turn religion into a weapon to hurt people who are different or don’t share the same beliefs.”
Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas
“All of us can agree that when religious beliefs can be accommodated without imposing on the rights of others, our laws should protect people of faith from government intrusion. But in a pluralistic democracy, no person can use his or her personal religious beliefs to deny others full participation in American society or the equal protection of the law. That’s because equality and religious liberty are both defining characteristics of American democracy, and our Constitution is big enough to secure both.”
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right. That’s why there are protections written into our state and federal constitutions, supplemented by the legislature in 1999. HB 3859 and related ‘religious freedom’ bills would allow for blatant discrimination against folks based on who they are and who they love without serving a legitimate policy objective. Any change to our child welfare system must be made to further the interests of Texas children, not to conform to adults’ political agendas.”
Mary Harris, who lives with her wife and their adopted daughter in Austin
“No matter what they call it, laws that allow discrimination against LGBT foster and adoptive homes are a direct attack on my wife and me — and our family. Targeting a group of people for discrimination is wrong whether it is based on race or religion or gender. And it’s just as wrong for the state of Texas to allow discrimination against people because of who they are and whom they love.”
Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis, associate rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Houston, who with her wife is a parent of two children – a special-needs adopted child and a foster child
“Christians in particular are called to care for children as our most precious and vulnerable community. If partnering with the state to provide for their safety and survival is a call for any organization of faith, then it shall live into that calling completely and in keeping with the standards of safety and inclusion set out by the state. There is no Biblical imperative to discriminate."