Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller is warning that this week’s appointment of a prominent political activist to a key position in the Attorney General’s Office threatens religious freedom in Texas.
“If you reject the separation of church and state, you are not a champion of religious liberty,” Miller said. “So it’s deeply troubling to see the irresponsible appointment of a foot soldier in the culture wars who has explicitly argued that this key constitutional principle protecting religious freedom in America is essentially a myth.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced on Wednesday the appointment of Jeff Mateer to the position of First Assistant Attorney General. Until this appointment, Mateer served as general counsel for First Liberty Institute, a Plano-based litigation group that uses the courts to advance a political agenda that is hostile to church-state separation.
Speaking at a conference at the University of St. Thomas in Houston in 2013, Mateer discussed what he tells students about religious freedom:
“I’ll hold up my hundred-dollar bill and say, ‘for the first student who can cite me the provision in the Constitution that guarantees the separation of church and state verbatim, I’ll give this hundred dollar bill. … It’s not there. … The protections of the First Amendment protect us from government, not to cause government to persecute us because of our religious beliefs.”
That rejection of church-state separation contradicts established, mainstream legal opinion and numerous rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Moreover, Mateer’s argument and his work at First Liberty Institute are designed to bolster the position of those who seek to use their personal religious beliefs as justification for refusing to obey anti-discrimination laws, Miller said.
“Cynical politicians across the country are using ‘religious freedom’ as a talking point in their efforts to allow businesses and individuals, even government officials, to fire or deny services to people who offend their religious beliefs,” Miller said. “Allowing the use of religion as a weapon to harm others is a radical redefinition of the concept of religious liberty. Today that weapon is aimed at laws that protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. But Mr. Mateer’s arguments would open the door to allowing the use of religion to ignore virtually any law that everyone else must obey.”