As Indiana faces boycotts and national ridicule for its recently-passed “religious freedom” law, a handful of bills facing Texas lawmakers this session would go much further, threatening to gut a 15-year-old law that offers protection to gays and lesbians from discrimination.
Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act states the government cannot “substantially burden” someone’s free exercise of their religious beliefs. Unlike the law passed in Indiana this month, Texas’ was a bipartisan effort that civil rights groups say has done a good job of balancing religious liberty and nondiscrimination, particularly because it includes a number of exemptions to protect civil rights and local ordinances. When then-Gov. George W. Bush signed it into law in 1999, some faith-based groups complained that it represented a “victory for gay rights groups around the country.”
Unhappy with the current law, a number of state legislators this session are attempting to “enhance” Texas’ religion freedom laws. They already are pumping the brakes, however, in the wake of intense opposition from the business community, agreeing to tweak their bills to ameliorate concerns that it targets the gay community. Civil rights and business groups, however, say the changes do not go far enough, voicing hope that the outcry lobbed at similar proposals in Indiana, and now Arkansas, will kill the legislation before it gains legs in Texas.
“This thing is equally bad or worse than Indiana, and look what’s happening there,” said Bill Hammond, head of the powerful lobbying group the Texas Association of Business. Organizations as disparate as NASCAR, Walmart and Apple have blasted Indiana and Arkansas for their laws, already prompting the governors of both states to backpedal on their support.