Written by Don Byrd
Across the country today there are lot of updates to religious liberty stories I have been following here on the blog. Here is a quick roundup:
Texas: The Texas legislature gave final approval this week to HB 3859, a bill that allows child placement agencies to refuse service that conflicts with their religious beliefs, even if they receive government funds to provide that service. As I explained in an earlier post, opponents argue this legislation opens the door to state-funded discrimination of all kinds. More and more of these religious refusal bills are appearing in the area of adoption services, a development worth watching.
Also in Texas, the Governor signed a bill into law protecting sermons from subpoena in litigation or administrative proceedings. You can read SB 24 here. The legislation seems designed to respond to a 2014 controversy in which the City of Houston subpoenaed sermons of certain area pastors. The Baptist Joint Committee joined several other religious liberty advocates in denouncing the action, which was later dropped.
Indiana: Unsurprisingly, the Indiana Supreme Court let stand an appeals court ruling dismissing a claim of religious freedom as a defense to prosecution for tax evasion. The court ruled that even if the defendant had properly demonstrated that taxes substantially burdened his sincerely held beliefs (which he had not), that there can be no religious freedom defense to tax evasion under the state’s RFRA law. The state has a compelling interest in the uniform collection of taxes, the court held. An Associated Press report has more.
Florida: Governor Rick Scott has received a bill from the legislature attempting to increase religious liberty protections in schools. Opponents of the bill argue that most of the law’s provisions are redundant and will only add confusion regarding the religious liberty rights of students, which are already robustly protected by the First Amendment. See my earlier post here. You can read Senate Bill 436 here.
West Virginia: In West Virginia’s Mercer County, a controversial Bible class has been suspended. The Board voted to halt the class for the next school year and engage in a thorough review of the program, which is the subject of a church-state lawsuit.