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Community leaders say 'religious freedom' bills open door to discrimination

Community leaders and Texas lawmakers say more than a dozen bills filed this session aim to legalize discrimination against LGBT Texans.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Texas Freedom Network held a rally at the Capitol Wednesday to bring attention to 17 bills that they say will legalize discrimination against LGBT Texans under the guise of religious freedom.

The organizations laid out the following concerns with the bills:

  • SB 651 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would bar all state regulatory or licensing agencies from adopting rules that limit the ability of individuals or businesses to discriminate based on religious beliefs. From medical providers and social workers to tow truck operators and electricians, dozens of professions regulated by the state would be free to put personal religious beliefs ahead of existing laws and professional standards.
  • HB 1923 by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, and SB 893 by state Sen. Brian Hughes, R-Mineola, would bar any governmental entity from taking adverse action – such as the withholding of a license, denial of a contract or termination of a benefit – against a government employee, contractor or medical or residential health facility that uses religion to justify discrimination against LGBT people or single mothers.
  • HB 2876 by state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, would allow businesses in the wedding industry to refuse to serve same-sex couples.
  • HB 3571 by state Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, would grant any business or individual a sweeping religious exception from local laws protecting LGBT people against discrimination in employment, housing and public services and accommodations.
  • HB 1813 by state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, HB 2795 by state Rep. Mike Lang, R-Granbury, and SB 522 by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, would allow county clerks and other government employees to refuse service to same-sex couples seeking a marriage license. Texans unable to access services in their home counties would be forced to obtain a marriage license from another county.
  • HB 1805 by state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, SB 892 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, HB 3859 by state Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, SB 1536 by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would allow child welfare service providers that contract with the state to use taxpayer money to discriminate against LGBT individuals and families in foster and adoptive placement as well as other services. These bills would also authorize child welfare providers to use religion to deny reproductive health care to a teen in their care, regardless whether the teen shares those religious beliefs.
  • HB 2779 by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, is a sweeping bill that authorizes discrimination in areas such as foster care and adoption and public services and accommodations for same-sex couples. It also permits government employees to refuse service to same-sex couples seeking a marriage license and permits discrimination against transgender people in medical and mental health care services and in the workplace.
  • HB 2878 by state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, would permit health care providers to use their religious beliefs as justification to deny medical treatment to LGBT people and others. It would also allow providers to deny family planning services – including birth control, counseling, miscarriage management and abortion care – to patients.
  • SB 2096 by state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and HB 3856 by state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, would allow social workers and counselors to use their religious beliefs as a justification for refusing to provide mental health, chemical dependency, marriage and family, or professional counseling services to LGBT people.
  • HB 428 by state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford allows official student organizations at public colleges and universities to discriminate against students for religious reasons. Student clubs funded by taxpayer dollars could prohibit female officers, deny membership to LGBT students or exclude Jewish and Muslim students from their activities.

Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D) of Austin agreed with the organizations.

"We run the risk basically, of codifying discrimination. And that's what we can't abide by. We have to stop it right now, with these bill," Rodriguez said.

The ACLU also said Texas doesn't need these laws because religious liberty already exists through the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act but supporters of the bills say people shouldn't be forced to do things they are morally opposed to.

Two of the bills, HB 3859 and SB 522, are scheduled for committee hearings this week.