church and state hi res_newWritten by Don Byrd

The state legislative session in Texas gets underway next month, and lawmakers are lining up to propose religious freedom legislation, according to a report by the Texas Observer. Most notably are a pair of propose changes to the state’s constitution that would protect *any* burden on a person’s religious exercise by the government unless necessary to further a compelling state interest.

There is already a law on the books in Texas – the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act – that offers robust protection for religious exercise. Like most RFRA laws, the one in Texas is designed to protect “substantial burdens” on religious exercise, not just any burden. These new offerings (HJR 55 and SJR 10) would expand that to cover any burden, and would enshrine the measure in the state’s constitution.

The Texas Observer reports:

The resolution from Campbell would amend the Texas Constitution to state that government “may not burden” someone’s “sincerely held religious belief” unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” and it is the “least restrictive means of furthering that interest.” Villalba’s amendment would state that government “may not burden in any way a person ’s free exercise of religion” unless those same conditions are met.

[Campbell spokesman Jon] Oliver said it’s important to have a constitutional amendment protecting religious freedom because the statute could easily be changed by future Legislatures. He also tied SJR 10 to Houston’s recent decision to subpoena pastors’ sermons as part of the city’s defense against a lawsuit aimed at repealing its Equal Rights Ordinance.

The Baptist Joint Committee supports RFRA laws generally as important protection for substantial burdens on religious exercise, but has opposed efforts in other states to more broadly protect any burden. Stay tuned.