Texas Legislature

Texas Senate Approves Reanimated Religious Protection Bill

The hill for which Texas Republicans are willing to fight.
The hill for which Texas Republicans are willing to fight. v343790 via WikiCommons
Wednesday night, two days after having an instantly vilified quickie hearing just to get it to the floor, the Texas Senate signed off on a religious protection bill that opponents fear could open the door to discrimination against Texas' LGBTQ community.

Prior to its hearing on the Senate floor, Senate Bill 1978 would've prevented Texas' municipal and state governments from taking "adverse action" against an individual based on their religious or moral beliefs. During debate over the so-called "Chick-fil-A bill," however, the bill was amended so that it only protects individuals from action taken against them because of contributions to or association with a religious organization.

The intent of the law is to prevent situations like the one that recently happened in San Antonio. In March, the city banned Chick-fil-A from its airport because of the company's history of donating to anti-LGBTQ causes.

"The government cannot deny you a contract because you wrote a check to the Salvation Army, because you wrote a check to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes," said SB 1978's author, northeast Texas Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes.

During a lengthy floor debate, Democrats repeatedly tried to weaken the bill with additional amendments or kill it with procedural maneuvers. They failed.

"At some point, we're going to become like a theocracy, like Iran, where one religion dominates and you have the priests run government." — Chuy Hinojosa

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"At some point, we're going to become like a theocracy, like Iran, where one religion dominates and you have the priests run government," McAllen Democratic Sen. Chuy Hinojosa said. "We continue to use the freedom of religion and turn that around."

Hughes repeatedly insisted that his bill was merely a mechanism for protecting the free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association rights already guaranteed by the Constitution.

"This bill is to give effect to and give a vehicle for protecting those First Amendment rights," Hughes said.

Despite the fact that the Texas House's LGBTQ caucus killed the House version of the "Chick-fil-A bill" with parliamentary tactics last week, Hughes' version has a good chance of making it to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's desk. Wednesday, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen told Austin's Spectrum News that he supports the bill personally and believes it has a good chance of passing the House.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young