Texas Bill Protects Doctors’ & Lawyers’ Religious Liberty

Texas Bill Protects Doctors’ & Lawyers’ Religious Liberty March 28, 2019
Cross with paint chipping (CC0 Josh Applegate on Unsplash)
Cross with paint chipping (CC0 Josh Applegate on Unsplash)

Texas is currently considering Senate Bill 17. This bill is designed to allow religious liberty for those in state-licensed professions. It simply states that, in most cases, a license can’t be revoked for someone acting according to their beliefs. Let me quote the key parts of the bill, show two reactions, and finally give my own analysis.

The Religious Liberty Bill Itself

The whole law is only 2.5 pages so I downloaded and read it myself. The key lines:

A 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.

Then follows a number of exceptions to this rule such as peace officers or emergency medical procedures.

The Reaction to Bill

The reaction has been sharply divided.

Negative Reaction

The Dallas Observer was critical of the bill.

Dozens of activists, mental health providers, clergy and others denounced the bill at a committee hearing Monday afternoon, saying it would allow doctors, mental health professionals, teachers and others to discriminate against LGBTQ people without fear of losing their occupational licenses. […]

In some cases, participants told researchers that medical providers were cruel or negligent, [Amy] Stone said. One trans woman told researchers that an emergency room doctor once refused to treat her unless she was wearing pants.

“Senate Bill 17 would exacerbate an already existing healthcare access issue for LGBTQ Texans,” Stone said.

Amy Billingsley, a University of Houston student who uses they/them pronouns, identified themselves as a pagan gender-nonbinary lesbian living out of wedlock with a woman. Billingsley said any of those categories could adversely affect their ability to get quality healthcare or conduct business transactions if the bill were enacted.

Positive Reaction

On the other hand, CBN gave a positive outlook.

Texas is pushing forward with new legislation that, if passed, will ultimately protect religious freedom. […]

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 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.

Why This Bill Now?

Right now in England, a Catholic woman has been investigated and threatened with possible jail time for “misgendering” another woman’s transgender child. There are concerns that similar things could soon be pushed in the USA as well.

For professionals in medical fields, this gets particularly complicated for cases where transgender individuals want treatment to help them look and feel like the opposite sex. Even other procedures on them in the areas that have been surgically altered to resemble the other sex is questionable. Other cases could also come up: imagine the town’s abortionist wants help from a devout pro-life financial planner to invest his money. The financial planner doesn’t want to touch that money that came from abortion, so he politely suggests the abortionist look elsewhere.

In Texas, Catholic Charities still offers adoptions. In many other parts of the country, they cannot because the state won’t license them if they only adopt to married opposite-sex couples. This week, Michigan became the latest state to challenge adoptions by Catholic Charities. This bill allows similar protections to both organizations and individuals.

Similarly, in the Federal government, some are trying to pass the so-called, “Equality Act” (an Orwellian named bill). The US Bishops have responded that this attempt at reducing discrimination, increases it: it removes religious liberty protections and forces all to accept gender ideology (a person is whatever sex they say they are).

At the same time, we should avoid unjust discrimination. In actual fact, I doubt there will be much of this from this bill for three reasons. First, the bill does have exceptions for when emergency services are required. Second, these professions have plenty of licensed people, not just one option and most professionals don’t want to lose business. Finally, the media and social pressure would prevent any serious injustice towards sexual minorities. (Maybe it could be worded better to avoid possible unjust discrimination, but legal minutia is not my specialty.)

We also need to avoid unjust discrimination in the opposite direction. Recently in Virginia, a teacher was fired for not refusing to use a transgender student’s new pronouns: he simply avoided pronouns altogether, referring to this person always by the new name. This is unjust discrimination of this teacher.

We need to protect religious liberty and this bill seems to do that while still making provisions to avoid unjust discrimination.

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