Last Wednesday, the Texas House Committee on State Affairs took testimony on House Bill 3567, filed by state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney. After hearing the intentions of the bill’s author and supporters, TFN has joined with the ACLU of Texas and Equality Texas to reach out in good faith to find common ground on this bill.
All three organizations strongly believe that a simple change of only five words clarifies the rights of pastors and other religious leaders to not perform marriages that run counter to their faith — which is the stated intention of the bill’s supporters — while also eliminating potentially problematic unintended consequences.
The full text of the letter we sent to Rep. Sanford and House State Affairs Committee members appears below.
Chairman Cook and Rep. Sanford:
We believe protecting clergy from having to perform marriages that don’t conform to the tenets of their faith is an important religious-freedom issue that all of us can agree on. However, we have concerns that the current text of HB 3567 could have unintended consequences that extend beyond the bill’s purpose. Below is a suggested revision, which adds only a few words to the original text of the bill.
Sec. 2.601. RIGHTS OF CERTAIN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS. A religious organization, an organization supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, an individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of that employment, or a clergy or minister when acting as such may not be required to solemnize any marriage, provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage, or treat any marriage as valid for any ecclesiastical purpose if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief.
Modeled on compromise language that has been accepted in other states – most recently Utah – this language would ensure that clergy and houses of worship are completely shielded, but without unintended consequences.
Thank you for your willingness to work to build consensus from all parties around this critical issue of religious freedom in Texas.