Religious, Civil Liberties Groups Tell Texas Senators: Discrimination Doesn’t Protect Religious Freedom

by Jose Medina

Advocates at State Affairs Hearing Push Back Against Arguments That Anti-Discrimination Laws Threaten Religious Liberty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AUSTIN – Religious and civil liberties groups today warned Texas senators that religious freedom has never meant the right to use faith as a weapon to discriminate against others or to ignore laws that everyone else must obey.

Representatives from the various groups spoke at a press conference before a Texas Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on religious freedom today. They countered arguments that individuals and businesses should be able to use their religious beliefs to opt out of or simply refuse to obey anti-discrimination measures and other laws that protect everyone. And they pointed to real threats to religious freedom that should command the committee’s attention.

Kathy Miller, president, Texas Freedom Network
“Religious freedom is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans. But it’s deeply dishonest when politicians radically redefine that freedom so that individuals and businesses can use religion to discriminate or impose their personal religious beliefs on others. In America we all have the right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of who we are or what we believe.”

Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas
“Texans are justifiably proud of our tradition of religious liberty, but that tradition has never meant that people have the right to opt out of laws they don’t like on the basis of their personal religious beliefs. As we approach the next legislative session, lawmakers would do well to heed the admonition of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who warned that in a society as diverse and pluralistic as ours, such a right of religious refusal would ‘court anarchy’ by opening ‘the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.’”

Jared Lindauer, Austin attorney, Anti-Defamation League
Lindauer spoke specifically about support from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office for placing Christian symbols on police cars.
“I am here today because I care deeply about religious liberty, not just from an academic standpoint, but from the very real and personal experience of actively practicing a minority religion in a Christian society. I am concerned when the state takes actions that appear to endorse one religion over all others. Such actions create the potential for divisiveness and can make people of minority faiths feel like outcasts in their own communities.”

Murali Balaji, director of education and curriculum reform, Hindu American Foundation
“Hindus who come to Texas often face harassment or coercion from Christian groups urging them to convert in exchange for food or jobs. No one should feel the need to convert to a religion for basic necessities. This is a daily reality for Hindu Texans, and one we hope the Senate committee considers as it examines the consequences of religious discrimination. Religious discrimination affects our communities, which is why anti-discrimination laws are vital. That’s why weakening or trying to find exemptions in these laws undermines our rights as religious minorities.”

Manpreet Singh, Houston attorney, director and trustee for the Sikh Coalition
“In the last few months, multiple Sikhs were violently attacked while their attackers yelled racial slurs, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) was vandalized and a Sikh was prohibited from boarding a flight because of his turban. The Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization, received double the amount of legal requests to address incidents of harassment, discrimination and violence against Sikhs in the United States in December, as compared to recent years. We should not legitimize bias-based targeting or discrimination in our laws.”

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston
“Instead of talking about the right to discriminate, let’s talk about real issues. How about the right to health care? Let’s talk about closing the coverage gap under the Affordable Care Act and allowing one million more Texans access to affordable, quality health insurance. How about the right to an education? Let’s talk about our unconstitutionally underfunded school finance system. These are the real issues we should be spending our time on.”

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Texans Equal Under Law is an initiative of the Texas Freedom Network and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas that defends religious freedom and the principle that anti-discrimination measures and other laws should protect and apply equally to all.

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