TFN, ACLU of Texas Launch Initiative Opposing Bills That Allow the Use of Religion to Discriminate

by Dan Quinn

Today the Texas Freedom Network and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas are announcing a joint initiative — Texans Equal Under the Law — to oppose laws that allow people and organizations to use religion to discriminate. This announcement comes as the Texas House Committee on State Affairs considers yet another proposed bill that turns the principle of religious freedom on its head by allowing faith to be used a weapon to harm people. We just sent out the following press release about that bill and Texans Equal Under the Law:

A bill under consideration in the Texas House State Affairs Committee today would give religiously affiliated entities like hospitals and child welfare organizations authority to discriminate against almost any Texas family, two of the state’s leading religious liberties organizations warn.

“This is yet another example of an ill-conceived bill that pretends to protect religious freedom but in truth opens the doors to real harm,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. “And it invites to Texas the same uproar and condemnation we’ve seen with similar bills in Indiana and other states.”

Supporters portray House Bill 3567 by state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, as simply protecting clergy from performing marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs. But the Constitution and Texas law already provide that protection, said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas.

“More troubling is that this bill goes much further,” Robertson said. “It would allow any religiously affiliated entity to pick and choose which lawful marriages it will recognize for any purpose. That would open the door to discrimination even in secular contexts, not just against same-sex couples, but also against interfaith couples, couples that include a previously divorced spouse, and even interracial couples.”

The Rev. Kyle Walker, pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Austin, echoed concerns that the bill flips the principle of religious freedom on its head.

“No pastor today is forced to perform a wedding that violates his or her religious beliefs, and our conscience is already protected under the law,” Walker said. “This bill is unnecessary and allows discrimination in the name of religion, in the name of God.”

HB 3567 would permit discrimination in a variety of secular circumstances. For example:

  • A religiously affiliated adoption agency could refuse to place a child with an interfaith couple, regardless of the best interests of the child.
  • A religious hospital could deny a legally married man the ability to make medical decisions for his spouse on the grounds that he was previously divorced.
  • A faith-based social service organization that accepts tax dollars—like a homeless shelter or food bank—could decline to serve interracial families.
  • A religious university could refuse to file federal tax forms for an employee in a legally recognized same-sex marriage.

TFN and the ACLU of Texas together have launched Texans Equal Under Law, an initiative that opposes HB 3567 and other legislation that would allow individuals and organizations to use religion to discriminate: www.texansequalunderlaw.com.

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