Proposed Texas Constitutional Amendments: Misusing Religion to Harm Others

Beware of politicians who propose legislation to protect religious freedom. It’s very important to read the fine print.

Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans. That’s why it is protected in the Texas and federal constitutions and why in 1999 a bipartisan majority in the Texas Legislature passed and a Republican governor signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Texas act bars government from “substantially” burdening “a person’s free exercise of religion” unless a law or regulation “is in the furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

The law lays out guidelines for identifying how those exceptions apply and includes other carefully crafted language to help ensure that the law isn’t abused to, among other things, undermine civil rights protections or lead to unnecessary and expensive lawsuits that clog up the courts. And for 15 years this law has worked well to protect religious freedom for all Texans.

But that’s not good enough for two Texas legislators and the religious-right groups that support them.

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, in this year’s legislative session have proposed separate amendments to the Texas Constitution that would sweep away the common-sense provisions in the carefully crafted 1999 law.

SJR 10 by Sen. Campbell and HJR 55 by Rep. Villalba are very similar. Both eliminate the “substantial burden” trigger. Instead, individuals who think that a law or regulation burdens their religious beliefs in any way at all could object. Measures that further a “compelling government interest” are excepted, but there are no guidelines for determining what that means. And nearly all other safeguards against abuse in the 1999 law are gone.

As a result, SJR 10 and HJR 55 would throw open the courthouse door to expensive lawsuits challenging any law, policy, regulation, government action or decision that an individual sees as conflicting with his or her religious beliefs. There’s no telling how costly such lawsuits could be. Moreover, the amendments would lead to a host of other problems and harms for Texans. Let’s walk through some of them.

The amendments would allow some people to ignore laws, regulations and other requirements that apply to everyone else. For example, some employees could argue they don’t have to follow company policies that are based on state laws or regulations when those policies conflict with their religious beliefs. A pharmacist who runs the only drugstore in town could cite his or her religious beliefs in refusing to fill a prescription for daily birth control pills. Similarly, a hospital could refuse to provide a procedure (or even inform patients about the option), such as a hysterectomy or even a blood transfusion, even if a patient’s health or life would be endangered without it.

These amendments would allow individuals to use religion to discriminate and harm others. Religious-righters have already argued that their beliefs should give them the right to ignore any discrimination protections for LGBT people. As bad as that is, many other protections would also be endangered.

For example, the broad language in the proposed amendments could shield abusers. A man could claim that laws against domestic and sexual violence and child abuse don’t apply to him because his religion teaches that a husband has the right to discipline his wife and children as he sees fit.

Moreover, a manager or business owner could point to his religious beliefs about women working outside the home to fire or refuse to hire female employees. Followers of anti-Semitic and racist religious sects might be legally protected if they unjustly fire Jews or African Americans and other people of color. An apartment manager whose religious beliefs dictate that a man should be the head of a household or that pregnancy outside marriage is a sin could refuse to rent – or even evict – an unmarried mother.

In addition, either of these amendments would give Texas a reputation for being judgmental and unwelcoming, creating an environment that is hostile to business and commerce in the state. Consider what has happened when other states consider such sweeping measures. Economists estimated that similar legislation in Arizona – eventually vetoed by a Republican governor – would cost $140 million in lost business from meetings and conventions over three years.

The same thing would happen in Texas. Either of these amendments could depress tourism and travel to the state. Texas could lose out on the opportunity to host major events like conventions and even the Super Bowl.

Moreover, companies could decide that moving to or expanding in this state would risk alienating potential customers and investors, make it harder to compete for the best job applicants, and open the door to expensive lawsuits. And existing businesses in Texas would face the legal nightmare of deciding how to enforce laws barring discrimination.

In short, the broad language in the proposed constitutional amendments would allow people to use religion as a weapon to harm others, undermine the fundamental principle that laws should apply to everyone, and hurt the Texas economy. And that would all happen because religious-righters think our national and state constitutions and existing laws protecting religious freedom aren’t good enough.

7 thoughts on “Proposed Texas Constitutional Amendments: Misusing Religion to Harm Others

    1. I just simply need a copy of the ten addmentat to be voted on to the Texas constitution that we are suppose to vote on in November 2015. I can’t find it anywhere and as a voter i am entitled to receive a copy so my husband can study them before we vote. I don’t think thats too much to ask for. Jeanette Hutson

  1. I do hope this kind of law will allow useing the sacred herb by the Rasta community. Is this the kind of freedom the law is meant to ensure?

  2. These fricking repubs are insane! Their bigotry toward people they don’t agree with is jusy plain evil. This state is a joke.

    1. Rhonda, I call them the TEAliban because the so-called tea party is out to destroy the United States as we knew it. I also call them the Repugnants because they simply cannot understand or appreciate that COMPROMISE is not “giving in.”
      Today’s TEAliban (GOP) is not any way the “Party of Lincoln.” They have become the party of “do it our way or we’ll take our ball and go home.”
      Also, they are RACISTS! They are angry that a black man is POTUS. Although in his last year or so Obama is doing a lousy job. TPP will not help anyone other than the 1% and the Iran deal? I trust them to do what they always do to the West: Break their word.
      At the risk of sounding like an Islamophobe, in their Holy book it clearly says that it is perfectly fine to break your word to an infidel.
      Like the Repugnants, they have NO RESPECT FOR ANY OTHER RELIGION. They cannot dispute that that is what their Q’ran says. Putting it out front, they are LIARS and cheats. Obama doesn’t think that is true. He needs to read their filthy book.
      I’ve never dealt with a Muslim without being on the losing end of the deal. Also, to be fair, I’ve never worked for a “fine Christian” without getting lied to and cheated to. I will never do business with any place that shows the ictus icon. To me it means: Look out.
      If that angers some Christians, tough. They pick and chose which of the various commandments they will follow. I’ve heard it called cafeteria Christianity.

  3. America 1776 to 2000, may she rest in peace.

    The “Religious Restoration” crap is simply a way around the hard won civil rights legislation.

    The “religious right” bunch is identical to Hitler’s NAZIS. IDENTICAL. They want to turn this country into a fascist state where they can discriminate against anyone they want to.

    Before the civil rights laws were passed, I had been refused employment and housing based on the simple fact that I somehow stepped into a time machine and went back a couple of thousand years to PERSONALLY kill Jesus. Yeah, I am a Jew and a staunch supporter of Israel. (Wanna do something about it? )

    These horrendous attempts at reversing civil rights MUST be fought against.

    What the religious wrong are attempting to do is to, along with the plutocrats and corporations….aww hell, just take a look at how fascist states are wrested from democracies.

    The United States is at very real risk of becoming such a filthy state.

  4. Apparently that never made it to the list of Constitutional items in this year’s election. I did some looking around and it is NOT listed. So it appears that it will not be on the ballot. See for a listing of all of the proposals that did not make it. Hope that helps/