AUSTIN, TEXAS — The current legislative session began with a heartbeat bill banning inanticide in the Lone Star State, and is now quickly succeeded by Senate Bill 17, expanding religious licensing exemptions to totally new professional categories.
The proposed legislation will simply prohibit state licensing agencies from adopting rules or policies that limit a professional’s free exercise of religion — including denying or revoking a license for actions taken according to a “sincerely held religious belief.”
Recently, a clerk in a neighboring Bible-belt state of Kentucky was jailed and illegally fined by the courts for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses; her 1st Amendment was made a “teachable moment.”
Sen. Perry’s bill is arguably an extension of the “Texas Privacy Act” passed last session, and is mirrored by the rulings and opinions given by Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton on the sanctity of marriage — specifically the right of state employees to deny gay couples marriage licenses on the basis of “sincerely held religious belief.”
“Living our faith does not stop when we start to work,” Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, the bill’s author, told the Senate State Affairs Committee during a hearing Monday.
Texas Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, introduced companion legislation to Perry’s providing for that individuals may decline to participate in gay marriage ceremonies and refuse to provide goods or services to same-sex couples (cake, comes to mind.)
A dozen clergy members opposed the bill, , including Rabbi Nancy Kasten of Dallas, who said living according to religious beliefs “should never be confused with permission to use faith as a weapon against those who do not share those beliefs.”
John Stuart Mill — a widely referenced 18th Century English phiolosopher — once said, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” That is the principle animating current legislative efforts to defend religious freedom.
SB 17 is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top priorities reportedly, and the native Houstonian has a reputation for successful passage of values-based legislation, in spite of past opposition of state House leadership — which is likely to be nonexistent this session.
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