A Southern Baptist lawmaker’s bill to allow professionals licensed by the state of Texas to deny services based on their religious beliefs has passed a committee vote and is headed toward the full state senate.
Senate Bill 17, sponsored by Republican Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, Texas, would protect “sincerely held” religious beliefs for people in a broad array of professions including medicine, law, counseling, real estate and hairstyling who need state licensing in order to perform their jobs.
“Living our faith does not stop when we start to work,” Perry, a deacon at Southern Baptists of Texas Convention-affiliated Southcrest Baptist Church in Lubbock, said during debate leading up to Monday’s 7-1 vote by the Senate State Affairs Committee.
Bill opponents, including several members of the clergy, called it a license to discriminate against LGBT+ Texans.
The Rev. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas, senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope of Dallas, argued the bill tries to make public policy based on a particular interpretation of the Bible promoted by “evangelical white Christianity.”
Perry responded the bill does not support “white evangelicals,” but it does support the First Amendment.
“I truly believe the Bible is inerrant and doesn’t need any interpretation,” Perry said. “It pretty well stands on its own, but that is in direct conflict to our society we face today for lots of different reasons.”
The bill is a top priority this session for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a longtime member of Second Baptist Church in Houston. Patrick’s pastor, former Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Young, last fall attacked the Democratic Party as “some kind of religion that is basically godless.”
SB 17 is one of more than a dozen Republican-backed bills before the legislature creating faith-based exemptions that critics say enshrine religious belief as an excuse to discriminate against sexual minorities.
“We should treat everyone as we want to be treated, with fairness, equality and respect,” commented Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. “It’s disheartening that we have elected leaders who seem hellbent on doing otherwise.”