The Texas Senate has approved a bill that will allow any licensed professional, such as a counselor, attorney or social worker, to refuse to serve certain clients if they have a religion-based objection. The bill, SB 17, passed on a 19-12 vote April 3, reported the Dallas Morning News. Its only exceptions are for police, and fire officials and anyone who is expected to perform lifesaving care.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has made passage of the bill a priority. Critics, including Americans United, say the measure will allow widespread discrimination against religious minorities, non-theists, members of the LGBTQ community and others.
In an April 1 letter to Texas senators, AU State Policy Counsel Nik Nartowicz wrote, “Prohibiting licensed professionals from discriminating in providing services is not hostile to religion – turning away people because they fail a religious test is.”
The lone Republican to oppose the bill, state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, issued a statement reading, “While I believe the author’s intent is pure, unfortunately SB 17 as written can also be used as a defense for discrimination. West Texans aren’t like that. People have invoked religion to justify or excuse discrimination, violence and even genocide. We must not have such short-term memory to forget history’s atrocities justified by religious beliefs. True religion is founded on love. Period.”
The bill’s sponsor is Sen. Charles Perry, a Lubbock Republican. The measure faces an uncertain future in the Texas House of Representatives.