The Texas State Senate passed a bill out of the Senate Affairs Committee Monday that has opponents clucking over chicken sandwiches and religious freedom. Extraordinary measures were taken, but a companion bill to one that died in the Texas House last week was introduced and advanced to the full Senate. The bill, Senate Bill 1978, is on the Senate’s intent calendar for Tuesday. The legislation is all about preserving religious freedom and tasty Chick-fil-A sandwiches, too.
Articles have been written here and other places for months about troubles the fast food franchise is encountering over attempts to eliminate contracts with colleges, bans at airports, and investigations have been opened. The battles against Chick-fil-A are led by LGBTQ activists opposed to the franchise founder’s support of Christian charities, claiming faith-based organizations are discriminatory to the LGBTQ community.
Last week Rep. Matt Krause introduced House Bill 3172, which gay rights groups described as the “most extreme anti-LGBT” legislation filed this year. The bill was killed by a point of order, a parliamentary move from Rep. Julie Johnson, a member of the House’s LGBTQ caucus. Senate Bill 1978 was filed by Sen. Bryan Hughes.
First, she offered a point of order arguing the amended bill improperly expanded its scope. That was shot down. Then, Johnson said an analysis of the bill’s effects was inaccurate. That point of order was valid, parliamentarians said.
As the bill died, a handful of lawmakers cheered its demise. Somewhere on the House floor, someone played a recording of “Taps.”
Hughes got his bill heard in committee Monday with a waiver of the public notice rule. The Senate Affairs Committee quickly met and conducted a public hearing on the bill without speakers, likely due to the fact that public notice was not given about the hearing. By contrast, the House bill brought out dozens of speakers both for and against the House bill.
“The bill as filed ensures religious beliefs are protected from discrimination. It’s about the First Amendment and freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those uniquely American rights,” Hughes said as he laid out his bill before a nearly empty committee room.
Hughes’ bill would prevent the government from penalizing an individual or business for actions based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.
Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning non-profit organization that works to counter actions from Christian conservatives, is none too pleased. Reading the president’s argument, though, makes it difficult to understand why the double-standard hypocrisy at play isn’t obvious. Discrimination is a two-way street. Why do the feelings of the LGBTQ community outweigh the freedom of a private business to contribute money and support to organizations incorporating its founder’s values?
“It’s appalling to hold a ghost hearing and then take a snap vote that leaves virtually no chance for anyone to tell senators how such a sweeping discrimination bill would affect individuals and families across the state,” Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network, said in a statement. “The lieutenant governor is so desperate to pass a bill that shields discrimination against LGBT Texans that he no longer even pretends to care what anybody else thinks about it. But ramming this bill through doesn’t change the fact that the majority of Texans oppose laws that allow the use of religion to hurt people simply because of who they are or whom they love.”
The sponsor in the Senate points to the obvious – the bill will protect the rights of individuals to support others who share the same values and beliefs.
“We’ve heard disturbing stories about folks being punished just because they choose to contribute to a religious organization that shares their views or values,” Hughes said.
LGBTQ advocates said the legislation would give Texans a license to discriminate against people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
There is likely enough time left in this year’s legislative session for the final bill to make its way to the governor’s desk for his signature. The last day for the House to debate Senate bills is May 21, with the session ending on May 27.
It’s too bad that it is now necessary for the state government to step in to protect the rights of business owners and their ability to support the religious charities of their choice. This legislation has been instigated due to the publicity garnered recently by Chick-fil-A but it will protect all businesses, regardless of liberal or conservative bias. In the case of Chick-fil-A, the franchise doesn’t discriminate against gay employees or customers. If a member of a minority community feels uncomfortable supporting any business solely due to that business’s financial contributions, the option of purchasing chicken sandwiches (in the case of Chick-fil-A) elsewhere is available. Trying to shut down a business is wrong and should not be silently tolerated.