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Conservative Republican senators and representatives Wednesday unveiled a dozen bills designed to protect religious practice, including efforts to allow Christians to opt out of serving gay couples if same-sex marriage violates their beliefs.
Unlike the 2015 session, when efforts to approve broad constitutional amendments to protect religious practice fell far short, the bills filed thus far focus on specific issues and were the result of a concerted effort to “make sure that religious liberty bills are at the forefront this session,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth.
“Religious liberties are the bedrock of what our state and our country were built on, and we want to make sure we are protecting those, preserving those and advancing those liberties as much as possible,” Krause said during a Capitol news conference.
Many of the bills have already attracted spirited opposition from critics who say they would authorize state-sanctioned discrimination.
“Religious liberty protections allow us to worship freely and to be vocal about what our religious beliefs are,” said Chuck Smith with Equality Texas. “But religious liberty does not allow me to exempt myself from laws or allow me to use my religious beliefs against other people. That’s discrimination, that’s not religious liberty.”
“There’s no discrimination here,” Krause said. “We’re just trying to open it up to where people can continue to work and do what they love to do in the way that they want to do it.”
One of the farthest reaching proposals, known as the First Amendment Defense Act, would not permit state or local governments to penalize people for acting on religious beliefs opposing gay marriage.