Texas is pushing forward with new legislation that, if passed, will ultimately protect religious freedom.
The Republican-controlled state senate in Texas is considering SB 17. The bill would allow state license holders like lawyers, health care professionals, and counselors to serve clients based on their religious beliefs without any adverse actions from licensing boards.
Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick (R) announced the bill as one of his top priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session. The bill was designated a priority as "a result of requests and recommendations from senators and the people of Texas."
"They strengthen our support for life, liberty and Texas values, increase protections for taxpayers," wrote Patrick.
SB 17's section on religious freedom reads:
"State agency that issues a license or otherwise regulates a business, occupation, or profession may not adopt any rule, regulation, or policy or impose a penalty that:
(1) limits an applicant's ability to obtain, maintain, or renew a license based on a sincerely held religious belief of the applicant; or
(2) burdens an applicant's or a license holder's:
(A) free exercise of religion, regardless of whether the burden is the result of a rule generally applicable to all applicants or license holders;
(B) freedom of speech regarding a sincerely held religious belief; or
(C) membership in any religious organization."
Conservatives across the state expect the bill to pass as the Republican party has control over the state's House, Senate, and governorship. However, opponents like the National Association of Social Workers Texas have stated they will argue against the bill in the hearing, calling it "discriminatory".
The organization states the bill runs "counter to the NASW Code of Ethics for all professionals, and will deny services to already marginalized persons in the LGBTQ community or women seeking access to reproductive care and services."
SB 17 comes at a crucial time when religious freedom faces ongoing threats across the country, and as a new threat emerges in the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives. This month, Democrats introduced an updated version of their Equality Act that elevates protections for sexual orientation over protections for religious liberty. The bill could threaten ministries with legal consequences if they denied an LGBTQ individual from working for their institution.
"Every American should be treated with dignity and respect, but our laws need to protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights that we have," Greg Baylor from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told CBN News.
"Now under the Equality Act we will have a nationwide law," continued Baylor. "We will see a proliferation of instances where Christians and others are being coerced to violate their beliefs in order to comply with such a law."
While Democrats are indicating the Equality Act is a big part of their agenda, they do not currently control the US Senate, so the measure is not expected to pass unless they gain control of both houses of Congress in the 2020 election.