Natassia Bonyanpour, Pro-Con: Should Texas strengthen its religious freedom laws?, Victoria Advocate

Two proposed bills are under revision in the State Affairs Committee to amend the Texas Constitution and strengthen Religious Freedom laws.

Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, proposed HJR 125, originally submitted as HJR 55 by Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas.

The bill would not allow Texas to burden, in any way, a person’s free exercise of religion unless it is necessary to further a compelling governmental interest.

The amendment goes on to apply to homeowners’ association on the same criteria.

Another bill, SJR 10, filed by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, states the government will not burden an individual’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act if motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.

In 1999, the state passed the Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed Texas residents to sue the government if they felt it was burdening their religious beliefs or practices.

Some say the current legislation is enough to suffice while others feel more stringent religious freedom laws are necessary to ensure protection of religious beliefs.


Pro: New law would protect people’s rights to practice their faith

The proposed amendment strengthens the Texas Constitution, said Clayton Knippa, chief of staff for state Rep. Matt Krause.

“HJR 125 has almost the same language as what we’ve had in Texas’ books,” he said. “No one has put up their arms in protest of this law (1999 Texas’ Restoration of Religious Freedom Act), and it has not been abused.”

Krause is taking current legislation and giving it a constitutional backing to make it stronger, Knippa said.

Opponents of the amendment say it would cause discrimination, but Knippa said that is not the case.

“Some people may think it will be all these hypotheticals,” he said. “This would not give license to discriminate.”

Under current law, people can go to court if they are not allowed their freedom of religion.

That would not change, Knippa said.

In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in September 2014, 47 percent of American adults said wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse services to same-sex couples.

Victoria resident Paul Tasin agreed.

“If two women want to get married, come in and my business is a catering service, I have the right to not do business with them,” Tasin said. “It’s not right in the eyes of God.”

Religious freedom is an American right, Tasin said, and business owners should be allowed to choose who they want to serve.

In Walkerton, Ind., a small pizza restaurant owner, said the business would not serve same-sex couples when interviewed by an ABC affiliate, WBND-TV.

After experiencing backlash and threats, the business closed.

A GoFundMe account was launched for the family to relieve them of financial burden and, in the course of 15 days, more than $800,000 was accumulated by people across the country.

Tasin said this illustrates the large percentage of Americans who hold true to their faith and values.

If federal law does not approve of same-sex marriage, Tasin said, neither should businesses.

“Marriage is only between a man and woman,” Tasin said. “Most of the population are trying to live their decent lives. It is a small population that is living against God.”

Real estate agent Russell Cain said all Americans encompass the right to practice their religious freedom, but he would never use it as a means to discriminate.

“I think everyone should have the right to worship God in their own way,” he said. “The problem with America today is the family unit is broken. People don’t live like Jesus did.”

Con: Change could lead to discrimination against gays

With recent religious freedom laws passed in Indiana and Arkansas, Gino Tozzi a University of Houston-Victoria lecturer of political science said, Texas lawmakers also want to jump on board.

“It’s a flavor-of-the-week type deal,” Tozzi said. “They want to bring something back to their constituents, and this is what’s popular.”

Both Indiana and Arkansas have received backlash from opponents, who say the legislation discriminates against gays and lesbians.

The bills proposed by two Texas legislators are relatively more detailed, Tozzi said, but are essentially the same as the 1999 Freedom of Restoration Act.

“It might invite litigation, but I don’t see what they would have to gain in the long haul,” he said. “It’s really not needed. It’s already in the constitution.”

Flora Hernandez, president of a Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Queer and Questioning group in Victoria, said the bills are regressive and reflect an era of segregation.

“It’s an old way of thinking,” she said. “When a white woman would be with a black man, they would say the same thing – that it was against God.”

With a large – and growing – gay population in Texas, Hernandez said, the backlash in the state, compared with Indiana and Arkansas, would be immense.

Often traveling across the state for gay pride festivals, Hernandez said communities are growing in support of gay relationships.

“There are gay pride festivals in all of the major cities,” she said. “I just went to one in Houston and even the mayor was involved. They (legislators) need to realize the community in Texas is a big one.”

Many businesses in the Crossroads said they would never deny service because of personal religious beliefs.

Mumphord’s Place Restaurant co-owner Ricky Mumphord said, while he is religious, he separates his faith from business.

“Everyone at the restaurant heard about what was happening in Indiana, and we just think (the law) is silly,” he said. “Who are we to judge?”

As long as customers respect his restaurant, Mumphord said, he and his staff have no problem serving anyone, regardless of religious preference or sexual orientation.

“I would not turn anyone down,” he said. “Our goal is to serve everyone.”

Tozzi said he feels the bills could pass the Legislature in the near future.

While immediate backlash may surface, Tozzi said, it would probably not extend to elections.

“They want to show they did something while in office to constituents,” he said. “I could see Gov. Abbott signing it.”

Pro-Con_ Should Texas strengthen its religious freedom laws_Victoria Advocate – Victoria, TX