Texas ‘Religious Freedom’ bill passes Senate panel

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dozens of religious leaders arrived at the state Capitol on Monday to support a newly-proposed “religious freedom” law. The bill by Sen. Craig Estes, R – Wichita Falls, passed the Senate State Affairs Committee and now heads to the full Senate.

Those who oppose the bill think it opens the doors to discrimination.

Some preachers, pastors, and clergy worry the US Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage could dictate life in their church. Even if their beliefs are protected by the Constitution, church leaders are looking for more religious protection laws coming from state governments.

While organizing against Houston’s gender identity bathroom ordinance, pastor Hernan Castano was subpoenaed for his sermons.

“How can they come to God’s house and disrespect God’s house,” said Castano. He fears this could happen again because of his traditional marriage views, should the Supreme Court make same-sex marriage legal everywhere.

“Puts us between the wall and the sword, pretty much,” said Juan Carlos Morin, who said he was pressured, but ultimately refused to marry a same-sex couple. He does not want to get sued for refusing. “Do we follow God’s law and ignore man’s law? Or do we follow man’s law and ignore God’s law?”

“No one is trying to force pastors to perform weddings that run counter to their faith,” said Ryan Valentine from Texas Freedom Network. He said the law as written now is too broad. “We would worry that a religious hospital could deny a legally married spouse the right to make medical decisions for their partner.”

Valentine wants to make sure the law it is not used to discriminate outside of the church or chapel.

The deadline to file bills in the Texas legislature was March 13, but this bill was filed after the deadline. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urged the Senate to vote and change the rules so this could get a public hearing. Changing the rules was a little easier this session after the Senate voted to lower the number of votes it took to suspend the rules and bring a bill up after the deadline. It is known widely as the “two-thirds” rule. The rules change make it harder for opponents to block a controversial bill.

Similar bills have been taken up in the House but have not made progress.

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