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Battle Over Religious Liberty Legislation Brewing At State Capitol

February 22, 2019 - 10:37 am

By Chris Fox, KRLD Austin Bureau Chief

AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - Clergy from diverse faith traditions gathered at the Texas Capitol this week to call on state lawmakers to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Texans from discrimination and reject proposed legislation that would turn religion into a license to discriminate.

They spoke at a Capitol press conference as part of Texas Believes, a coalition of faith leaders who support full equality for LGBT Texans.

“The bible I read does not tell me to discriminate against my neighbor, but to love my neighbor and to treat everyone as I would like to be treated,” said Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz, associate pastor of Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Dallas. “Like the majority of Texans, I believe it’s time our state laws reflect the same sense of respect to gay and transgender Texans.”

Rabbi Kelly Levy of Congregation Beth Israel in Austin, pointed to the Torah and its teaching that all people are equal in the eyes of God. “As a Jew, a rabbi, and a human being, I stand here today urging our elected officials to remember to love their neighbor, to protect the vulnerable among us, to see that we are all created in God’s image, that we are all one,” Levy said. “Vote to protect the rights of the LGBT community. Vote to protect the rights of your fellow human being.”

“Religious freedom is one of the founding values of our nation but is not a license to discriminate,” said Rev. Erika Wilson, founder and spiritual director of The Awakening Spiritual Community in San Antonio and faith coordinator for the Texas Freedom Network. “We’re here today to say that protecting everyone from discrimination, treating everyone right and equally, isn’t being hostile to religion,” Rev. Wilson said. “We’re hearing that businesses should have the right to fire, or refuse service to someone because they don’t meet their personal moral standards or share the same religion.”

After watching the Clergy speak on the North Capitol steps Jonathan Saenz of the Christian Advocacy group Texas Values took his retort to Facebook Live. Saenz said the problem is legislation designed to make the LGBT community a protected class. “They want government to put people in jail, to punish people and put them out of business because of their beliefs on marriage and sexuality.”

Polling from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 64 percent of Texans support laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination in jobs, public services and housing. The same polling shows that 57 percent oppose allowing businesses to refuse to provide products or services to LGBT people for religious reasons.

Legislators have filed a number of bills this session to update the state’s nondiscrimination laws to include protections for LGBT Texans. In contrast, at least three other bills would allow businesses, mental health counselors, other licensed professionals and even government officials to refuse service to LGBT Texans for religious reasons.