AUSTIN—State lawmakers, for the second session in a row, are drafting legislation that will provide Texans with protection from government prosecution in matters of conscience and religious conviction. Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth introduced lawmakers and their legislation to the media Feb. 15 in an effort to show a “united front” and present a “cohesive” message on the issue of religious liberty.
“We want to make sure we are protecting these, preserving these, advancing these liberties as much as possible,” Krause said during the Feb. 15 press conference.
“These issues we are dealing with are not abstract. They are not hypothetical,” said Rep. Matt Schaeffer, R-Tyler. “There are real people—real Texans—out there that are being forced to choose between their faith and conducting their business.”
Schaeffer noted examples of private and governmental backlash against Texas business owners and public employees for acting on or simply stating their conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Prior to the 2015 Obergefell decision that forced all states to recognize same-sex marriages, some states, like Washington, had already changed their marriage laws and/or enacted nondiscrimination laws protecting people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI). That put business owners, public employees, and faith-based ministries in the position of obeying the law or their conscience.
For example, the day following the Texas press conference, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that 72-year-old florist Barronelle Stutzman violated the state’s nondiscrimination law when she declined to create floral designs for the same-sex wedding of a longtime customer. The unanimous decision holds Stutzman financially liable, which could cost the grandmother all of her assets.
Texas Rep. Scott Sanford, R- McKinney, said SOGI laws in Massachusetts and Washington D.C. forced Catholic Charities to shutter its adoption agencies because the organization would not subjugate its doctrine on marriage to that of the state by placing children with same-sex couples. And in Illinois the state refused a religious exemption to a Christian adoption agency that refused to place children in the homes of unmarried couples.
In Texas 25 percent of all foster and adoption agencies are operated by faith-based organizations. Sanford wants to keep it that way with passage of the Hope for Orphans and Minors Expansion (HOME) Act. Sponsored by Sanford in the House (HB 1805) and by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Tyler, (SB 892), the legislation would provide legal protection from government reprisals for denying adoption services to same-sex couples.
Sanford said the loss of faith-based placement agencies would increase the burden on an already troubled Texas foster care and adoption system. Overhauling that system is a priority this session and insuring the continued operation of faith-based agencies would be one means to that end, Sanford said.
“The HOME Act makes clear a governmental entity may not take adverse action against a faith-based adoption or foster care provider who exercises their religious tenets while complying with [Department of Family Protective Services] guidelines,” Sanford said.
Additional bills and their authors:
HB 192 and SB 893—The First Amendment and Defense Act (the state version of pending federal legislation) prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against someone for their beliefs about marriage. The law provides a defense against governmental legal action. Individuals can still be sued in the private sector, but as in the Stutzman case the government cannot retaliate against a business or individual. Authors: Krause and Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Tyler.
SB 651–This bill prohibits a licensing agency from withdrawing the license of a person who acts upon their faith in the course of exercising the duties related to the license. Licensees can be sued or fired but can’t lose their license, which would hinder employment opportunities. Author: Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.
HB 522—This legislation hopes to “clean up” a previously enacted bill that allows homeowner associations to enact restrictive guidelines regarding religious displays by a homeowner. The restrictions were the unintended consequences of a previous passed bill. Author: Mike Schofield, R-Houston.
HB 1813 and SB 522—These bills will give certified officials and country clerks the right to decline to conduct a marriage ceremony if that ceremony impedes on their deeply held religious beliefs. Authors: Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton and Sen. Birdwell, R-Waco.
HB 421—This bill would remove regulations imposed by Texas Occupational Licensing Code that requires churches, synagogues or temples with an organized volunteer security team to be licensed as a guard company, which entails 40 hours of course work, fees and annual renewals. Penalties could be as high as $10,000 for the church and individual. The bill removes these entities from the jurisdiction of the Private Security Act. Rep. Author: Matt Rinaldi, R-Dallas.