Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Texas Senate Passes Anti-Christian Pro-Discrimination Bill

Tuesday, April 2, 2019, the Texas Senate passed a controversial "religious liberty" bill, protecting professionals licensed by the state from disciplinary action from state boards when they act on their "sincerely held religious beliefs" in their places of business and allowing them to refuse service to anyone whom they disagree with based on such belief.

The text of the entire bill is not long, just over 400 words in its entirety.  In the applicable part, the law provides:
Sec. 57.003. Certain Occupational Licensing Rules Or Policies Prohibited
(a) 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 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.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply to the licensing or regulation of peace officers by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
(c) Subsection (a) does not prohibit a state agency from taking any action to ensure that the standard of care or practice for the applicable business, occupation, or profession is satisfied.
(d) This subsection may not be construed to:
     (1) authorize an applicant or license holder to not pay a license issuance fee or renewal fee;
     (2) authorize a license holder to provide a medical service within the scope of the person's license             that is necessary to prevent death or imminent serious bodily injury; or
     (3) limit any right, privilege, or protection granted to any person under the construction and                laws of this state and the United States.

State Sen. Charles Perry, Lubbock, said Senate Bill 17 protects licensed professionals such as doctors, accountants, lawyers, and counselors in acting on consistent with their religious beliefs.  Perry, an accountant by trade, fears Christians cannot practice their faith openly in the public square without facing consequences.  "We're waking up in an era where the Christian faith, specifically, seems to be under attack."

Cue the hysterics over Christian persecution.

Let's be clear what this is about.  It's LGBTQ discrimination disguised as "religious liberty."  If we needed any further evidence, you can look at the bill's history.  Senator Jose Menendez, San Antonio, offered an amendment to the bill which would have clarified that the bill would not allow a professional to decline patients based on their sexual orientation.  It was refused and failed by a 18-13 vote.

And if that were not enough, if it wasn't bad enough that this bill is, quite frankly, purposefully designed to allow for the discrimination against an entire class of people, the bill is poorly designed on several other fronts.

  1. The bill creates a special class of protected people in its text, in violation of the Anti-Establishment clause - The language of this bill clearly sets up protections afforded to religious people that are not available to the agnostic or atheistic.  The bill provides protection of one's "free exercise of religion, regardless of whether the burden is the result of a rule generally applicable to all applicants or license holders."  In other words, it does not matter if the existing laws or rules are fairly designed and are applicable to every person that applies, if you are religious, you can ignore those rules if they conflict with your "sincerely held religious beliefs."  That necessarily creates a division in how existing laws are enforced giving special treatment to the religious, something our forefathers strictly prohibited.
  2. Further, this bill is clearly geared specifically with Christian beliefs in mind - We all know why these type of bills are being enacted.  It's the Colorado gay wedding cake protection bill. So that no Christian is forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding.  The bill as it exists provides much broader protections though, since it cannot Constitutionally be explicitly geared toward the Christian faith.  Let me know what happens the first time a Muslim veterinarian refuses service on a family pet pig.  I mean just look at the outrage each time a Muslim asks for the removal of pork from a menu.  Let's look a little closer to something most proponents of this bill would actually be in support of.  What happens when a Muslim marriage therapist refuses to counsel a same-sex couple under their "sincerely held" belief in the Quran?  If you are uncomfortable with these denials, THEN IT'S NOT OKAY WHEN WE DO IT EITHER.
  3. The belief must only be a "sincerely held religious belief," it need not be deeply held. - How do we measure sincerity?  How do we measure the depth of conviction? If I believe gluttony is a sin, but continue to eat a dozen donuts in one sitting on a weekly basis, do I really believe that?  And if I'm a doctor and believe that gluttony is a sin, does that give me an excuse to skip seeing obese patients because their health problems are God's punishment for their sin of gluttony (provided it's not a medical emergency)?  At what point is that "belief" an excuse?  And why should we allow that to be sufficient to circumvent the policies that we already have in place to prevent discrimination?
  4. There have been a lot of terrible "sincerely held religious beliefs" in our past - Look, we don't have to go back even fifty years to find large groups of Christians who believed in the Curse of Ham and that black people were specifically created by God to be inferior to the white man.  Under this bill, such a believer could have withheld service to any person of color they saw.  Or how about the dying view that a wife needed her husband's (or father's) permission to do anything?  Likewise under this bill, a proponent of such a position could have withheld service from a female without proof of their husband's or father's approval.  We have wisely recognized those are periods that we do not want to go back to and have enacted Constitutional protections for those groups.  What this bill currently allows is is discrimination against groups we have not yet identified for Constitutional approval.  That's not good company.
  5. The breadth of impact of this bill is astounding - This bill applies to anyone who holds a Texas license.  That list includes doctors, dentists, vets, counselors, lawyers, real estate agents, teachers, massage therapists, pawn brokers, pest control, pharmacists, plumbers, pipe-fitters, social workers, accountants, engineers, acupuncturists, athletic trainers, etc.  Does this mean a science teacher that only believes in creationism can refuse to teach the theory of evolution and the accepted science of the formation of the universe?  Can believing teachers decide they no longer want to teach agnostic or atheistic students?  Or can a teacher decide they won't teach LGBTQ students?  How about a public librarian who does not believe in stocking or loaning out anything other than religious or approved material?  Are we okay with that censorship?  Catholic pharmacists who will not fill birth control prescriptions?  Deeply conservative pest control or plumbers refusing to service a house of a LGBTQ couple?  
It's the last point that is the most troubling.  What happens when a counselor decides they will not provide any assistance to LGBTQ people?  Yes, the bill provides a requirement that no medical professional can refuse service that is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury, but where is that line?  There have been numerous stories that have come forward of LGBTQ people contemplating suicide that just needed someone to talk to, someone to listen.  What happens when such a youth makes no indication that they are contemplating suicide or self-harm, to where no one can see the imminent need, but they want to talk to a counselor who has a "sincerely held belief" that they could rely on to avoid such a conversation?

The even bigger question would be - why is that counselor so afraid of having that conversation?

Here's the most important point of why the bill is hogwash.  It's completely un-Christian.  It goes against everything we are taught to love our enemies, to be salt and light to the world.  Of being the Good Samaritan.  It completely misses the point of the illustration of going the second mile.

"If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles."
Matthew 5:41

The second mile was a form of impressment.  In Roman days, Jews, like others under Roman occupation, could be forced to carry a soldier’s bag (100 lb) for one mile.  Regardless of what the person was doing, regardless of where the solider was going, the impressed person was required by punishment of law to carry the soldiers pack.

There were typically two different types of responses to this requirement.  The Zealots, or the religious right/fundamentalists, would dig in and engage in  “civil” disobedience.  Be thrown in jail for refusal.  This type of requirement and response would be part of what led to a Jewish revolution attempt.  On the other hand, the average person might carry the pack, but would grumble the whole way, throw the pack down at the end, and storm off in a huff.

Jesus says do more – do something astonishing.  Don't just carry the pack the required distance.  Go further.  Don't do it begrudgingly; do it willingly.  Do it as service to God.

It's also very important to notice what Jesus does not say.  He also did not give any exceptions.  There is no exception for circumstance.  Of particular interest, there is no exception for the Sabbath.  On the Sabbath, Jews viewed scripture as preventing them from being able to work, regardless of what the work was for.  They had even calculated the specific number of steps that they were allowed to take to prevent them from breaking this rule.  What is very interesting about this situation is that depending on the circumstances, a Jew might be able to carry the pack for one mile and return to his home without breaking the number of steps.  By instructing them to walk two miles, still having the return trip of two miles, without an exception for the Sabbath, Jesus' new instruction would definitely cause them to break the allotted number of steps on a Sabbath.  One further indication showing Jesus cares not for our religious rules we have created, but deeply cares about his people and the instruction to love.

How can we be expected to go the second mile for a lost and broken world if we're not even willing to meet them at mile 0?  At this point, forget something astounding, forget even the first mile, we're trying to avoid being in that situation in the first place.

After a procedural vote, SB17 will be sent to the Texas House, where it has the potential to face real opposition.

And let's hope it does.

Maybe by then, we'll stop trying to cut ourselves off from the world, and get out there and start showing up to do the astonishing work we've been called to.

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