We just sent out this press release with our partners at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas:
Two leading civil and religious liberties organizations in Texas are warning against efforts by elected officials to misuse religion to defend discrimination in the state. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Freedom Network announced today an effort to track instances of religious refusals by government officials and businesses. Individuals can report such instances at www.texansequalunderlaw.com/story.
Efforts to carve out special religious exemptions to state and local laws designed to protect the common good – especially nondiscrimination measures – distort the true meaning of religious liberty and put all Texans at risk, said Rebecca Marques, policy and advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas.
“Religious freedom is one of our fundamental rights as Americans,” Marques said. “That’s why we protect it in our Constitution. But religious freedom doesn’t give anyone the right to refuse to obey laws that everyone else must obey or to discriminate against or harm others.”
Earlier this month Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked state senators to recommend allowing government officials and employees, other individuals and businesses to refuse to obey laws to which they object because of their personal religious beliefs.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also sent letters to legislative leaders supporting such “religious refusal” policies. Paxton specifically supported the right of government employees and businesses to refuse to recognize or provide services for the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. He also called for changes in state law that would limit the ability of local governments to adopt protections against discrimination.
Religious freedom doesn’t give government officials and employers the right to impose their religious beliefs on others or to pick and choose which laws they will obey, said Rabbi Neal Katz of Tyler, a board member for the Texas Freedom Network.
“One of our most important values is treating others the way we want to be treated, and we all have the right to equal treatment under the law,” Katz said. “Nobody should be turned away from a business or government office, refused service, or evicted from their home simply because they don’t share another person’s religious beliefs or because of who they are or whom they love. That discrimination distorts the real meaning of religious liberty.”