In a 19-12 vote, the Texas Senate approved Senate Bill 17 early this month — a bill its detractors are calling a “license to discriminate” against certain groups. It needs just one more vote to get passed along to the Texas House for debate.
If enacted, SB 17 would make it legal for occupational license holders to refuse service to patrons based on “sincerely held religious belief,” according to the bill. With this law in place, a business owner would only have to cite a religious opposition in order to deny service to any customer.
We interact with people who don’t subscribe to our beliefs every waking day of our lives — it is kind of the whole point of America. When did coexisting become an “attack on religious freedom?”
In an issued statement, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said SB 17 would “protect Texans of all religious faiths,” according to KVUE Austin.
We know exactly how this law will be utilized: to lawfully discriminate against already marginalized groups. When we scroll our social media feeds we see synagogues targeted with gun violence. We see mosques defaced and we see various violations against LGBTQ people. We know who will be harmed by these laws and, more importantly, so do the sponsors of the bill.
Under this law, where could we logically draw the line? A restaurateur refusing to seat a Muslim man because he thinks Jesus wouldn’t like it? A lawyer denying all transgender clients because she swears her Bible outlines that this service would constitute sacrilege?
Moreover, how do we establish what a “sincerely held” belief is? Does the license holder have to physically prove that their religion states it is blasphemous to serve a gay person or, more probably, will the validity of their refusal rest solely on their word?
Providing service in no way necessitates the provider’s acceptance of the client’s life — a private contractor can renovate a deck for a Hijabi woman without adopting the beliefs of her religion.
SB 17 sponsor Charles Perry of Lubbock approved an amendment of the bill exempting life-saving first responders like firefighters and paramedics, according to Dallas Morning News. Imagine ambulance personnel refusing to save a person’s life, using their religion as a defense and walking free. This is the reality Perry was eager to advance before the exemption clause was added.
A similar bill failed to pass the Texas House in 2017, but discriminatory bills like these need to be taken seriously. Apathetic affirmations that “it could never become law” are obtusely optimistic given our history of past transgressions against LGBTQ Americans and only serve to derail and subdue the conversation.
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, found that 129 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced across 30 states in 2017. Targeted bills like these are proposed every day and it is clear they will not stop coming. All we can do is continue to object and vehemently deter these bills at every level because right now, some religious lawmakers are praying for our downfall.
Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon