Today, the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee held a public hearing on religious liberty as state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Patrick, have expressed concerns about the growing attacks on religious liberty. Religious liberty is currently a hot topic amongst local, state and federal officials, as well as in election debates and upcoming Supreme Court cases.
Testimony was heard from Texas Values, First Liberty (formerly Liberty Institute) who represents the Kountze cheerleaders who had their Bible verse banners banned by the public school, a lawyer for Beaumont police officers who had their Bible study banned. Also presenting testimony were several pastors (Mike Weaver, Steve Branson), a Houston photographer (Genesis Photographers owner David Postma), and bed and breakfast owner Angela Smith, all testified at the hearing to address religious liberty concerns for the state of Texas amongst other religious liberty experts. Andy Taylor, the lawyer who victoriously defended pastors who had their sermons subpoenaed by the City of Houston also presented testimony. Taylor also won at the Texas Supreme Court against the Houston Bathroom ordinance that had restrictions on religious liberty.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Bill Hammond, CEO of Texas Association of Business who both actively opposed religious liberty legislation last session testified, once again, in opposition to religious liberty and appeared to indicate support for government power being used to punish businesses and business owners based on their religious beliefs. Hammond made the argument that religious freedom is not good for business and that if all Texans have their religious freedom protected it will hurt our Texas economy, yet he was unable to produce any evidence in Texas of such a strange argument. LGBT advocates have previously tried to convince people that the economy will suffer if there are not specific laws that support LGBT behavior, like allowing men to enter women’s bathrooms.
In Houston, though, the Senate State Affairs Chair Joan Huffman stated that there has been no negative economic result after voters rejected the LGBT bathroom ordinance (which threatened religious freedom), 61-39% at the ballot box. The NFL released a statement right after the LGBT Bathroom ordinance was defeated, stating that the Super Bowl would be in Houston in 2017 and there is no reason to make any change.
Equality Texas, an LGBT advocacy group, and Texas Impact also testified at the hearing making it clear in testimony that they supported government laws and government power being used to punish people of faith for their religious beliefs, particularly on religious views related to marriage and sexuality.
David Pickup, a Dallas psychologist, testified about the need to protect the freedom to have discussions about someone’s religious beliefs on sexuality. New Jersey and California both have state law that ban such services. Mr. Pickup testified that he’s received death threats because of his service in Texas to help individuals follow their own conscientious beliefs about sexuality.
The Texas Catholic Conference also testified about their concerns in regard to the growing attacks on religious liberty, particularly as it relates to the widespread charitable social services that their ministries provide.
Texas Values President and Attorney stated,
“Texas is known for being a stronghold for First Amendment freedoms, but religious liberty in Texas has been under attack now more than ever. Military servicemen, public school cheerleaders, police officers, county clerks, local judges, photographers and numerous faith-based nonprofits are under attack and have been singled out for punishment because of their religious beliefs. We believe all Texans should have religious freedom, but unfortunately the ACLU and others think the government and unelected judges should be able to “cherry-pick” who has religious freedom and who doesn’t. This type of hostility and religious discrimination is dangerous and harmful to Texans, particularly faith-based nonprofits that provide charitable social services and small business owners that would be put out of business by costly litigation.
The Houston Bathroom ordinance contained terrible restrictions on religious liberty, and even led to the subpoenas of 5 Houston pastors. Thankfully the Texas Supreme Court and the citizens of Houston stopped this horrible ordinance.
Faith-based pregnancy centers went under attack by a local city ordinance in Austin that was a serious violation of their First Amendment rights and the ordinance was finally struck down by a federal judge.
Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk was relieved of his duties after he was forced to state his beliefs on marriage by an open lesbian commander while in Texas.
The City of Beaumont attempted to shut down a voluntary Bible study.
Texas Cheerleaders (Kountze) were banned by the government from using words from the Bible on their football banners. http://txvalues.org/2016/01/29/texas-supreme-court-favors-kountze-cheerleaders-in-bible-banner-case/
During the last legislative session, HB 3864 would have meaningfully protected faith-based adoption and foster care providers, but was not taken for a final vote.
County clerks are being sued and pressured into performing same-sex marriages despite the Texas Attorney General’s opinion that “Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies”.
Just this morning the Lt. Governor sent a request to the Attorney General asking for an opinion on the constitutionality of a volunteer-led justice court chaplaincy program and ceremonial court prayer because a complaint was filed against a Texas Justice of the Peace.”