Written by Don Byrd

[UPDATE 5/21/19: The Texas House voted to approve the bill after making a change – removing a provision that authorized the state to sue government entities charged with religious discrimination. After final approval the bill returns to the Senate for a vote on the House change.]

With the deadline for legislative action during the current session closing in, the Texas Senate passed a bill that purports to protect religious liberty, but is raising concerns and questions. Senate Bill 1978 and a similar bill in the House caused a firestorm of controversy when it was originally introduced for granting overly broad religious exemptions, but by the time the measure came to the floor earlier today, the amended version that advanced was described by the Texas Tribune as “watered down” and “largely duplicative of existing protections” in the Constitution. 

The revision, which [original bill sponsor Senator Bryan] Hughes made on the floor, outlaws government retaliation against someone based on their association with or support of a religious organization. 

if that sounds to you like something that already is outlawed by the Constitution, you’re not alone!

“Can you identify the shortcomings of the Constitution in protecting religious freedom?” asked Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

“This is covered under the First Amendment, so I’m not sure what your angle is,” she added, after reading from [the bill].

Responding to such questions, Hughes called the measure an important “vehicle for protecting those First Amendment rights.”

Bill advocates say the measure is necessary to stop local governments from penalizing entities for their adoption of religious perspectives. They point to the San Antonio City Council’s refusal to grant an airport vendor contract to Chik-Fil-A because of the company’s religiously-motivated policies. Opponents counter that the bill is a misguided attempt to sanction discrimination under the guise of advancing religious liberty rights that are already well-protected under the law.

The bill now goes to the State House, which faces a Tuesday deadline for passing legislation, according to the Texas Tribune’s report.