State Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels has proposed a constitutional amendment that would make it legal for Texas businesses to fire LGBT employees and turn away LGBT customers if their religious beliefs compel them to do so.
The proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 10, was filed on November 10, the first day of pre-filing for the legislative session that begins in January. In the resolution, Campbell writes that state government
may not burden an individual’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief unless the government proves that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
The scope of the resolution is broad and includes “indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, and denying access to facilities or programs.”
Campbell proposed a similar measure in 2013 that died in committee. Much to her surprise, she got significant push back from her fellow legislators. At that time, Texas Monthly wrote:
The concerns about the measure, from fellow senators and from witnesses, fell into two broad categories. On the one hand, it’s arguably redundant. The right to free exercise of religion is already enshrined in both the U.S. Constitution and Texas’s. As Leticia Van De Putte, a Democrat from San Antonio, noted during the hearing, Texas reiterates that commitment with laws on the books protecting religious freedom.
One of those laws is the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1999 measure that prevents government agencies from “substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion” unless the government has “a compelling governmental interest to do so.”
Campbell’s proposal is strident in its insistence that an individual’s religious beliefs trump laws meant to protect the LGBT community.
Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, told Towleroad that “in addition to undermining local nondiscrimination laws, she believes Campbell’s proposal would open up government to all sorts of litigation from people who have religious objections to a wide variety of regulations.”
During the long and divisive fight to enact San Antonio’s nondiscrimination ordinance Campbell wrote a letter to then-Mayor Julian Castro stating the reason for her opposition:
San Antonio is an exceptional city in which every individual should feel welcome, and I believe that’s the intent of the authors of the ordinance. However, by alienating a majority of Texans who believe in traditional marriage and values, it is having the opposite effect. San Antonio churches, families and businesses feel less welcome in their hometown as a result of this proposed ordinance, fearful that they may now be penalized or face costly lawsuits just for practicing their faith or expressing their opinion.
Currently there are five Texas cities with nondiscrimination ordinances that offer protection to LGBT citizens: Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was passed in May but is on hold awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by opponents. The ordinances in all of these cities could be affected by Campbell’s proposal.
“The resolution I filed today provides a necessary layer of protection from overreaching governments that engage in acts of prejudice meant to intimidate Texans of faith from expressing their deeply held religious beliefs,” Campbell said in a press release on Monday.