State committee considers expanding religious freedom laws

The main focus of the hearing before members of the Senate State Affairs Committee was two laws. SB 24, the Sermon Safeguard Bill and HB 555, the Religious Liberty of County Clerks Bill.

"One thing I'd like to mention, is as an elected official, our job is public service, we do not get to pick and choose who we serve." Teresa Kiel, with the County & District Clerks Association of Texas.

Kiel testified about a recent survey the association sent to members about issuing marriage licenses for same sex couples. "Of the 254 I received 49 responses, kind of like our voter turnout, which is sad,” SAID Kiel.

Only two clerks said they had someone else sign the document. It was suggested, the low response was due to a fear of speaking out against gay marriage.

Edie DeLorme testified about that and how she and her husband, David, were attacked for taking a religious stand. "We had threats against our lives, that’s to burn our business and home to the ground with us in it,” said Edie DeLorme.

The DeLormes own a bakery in East Texas, and two years ago made headlines after declining to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple.

Wednesday, they urged lawmakers to give business owners as well as medical professionals the same protection given to county clerks and preachers.

"Small business owners have a right to make a decision on what they do or do not do according to their religious beliefs, that people have their religious freedom to say no,” said David DeLorme.

The legislation protecting preachers stems from a gay rights ordinance in Houston four years ago. SB 24 was passed after the city demanded church leaders, who objected to the ordinance, to surrender copies of their sermons.

"We are on a slippery slope here,” said the Reverend Laura Walters.

The church leader from Lake Travis was one of the few people at the hearing to speak against expanding the religious freedom legislation. "I support freedom of religion my concern is when our religious freedom, my religious freedom cannot be imposed on somebody else,” said Rev. Walter.

Committee chair Joan Huffman expects legislation will be introduced during the next session to expand the state religious freedom laws. "And the way it would be done, I don’t see some broad Bill that has some sweeping reform because I think we have found that constitutionally can bring some big problems,” said Sen. Huffman ( R) Houston

The committee is also looking at ramping up the enforcement of new abortion restrictions. And ways to give the attorney general more authority to prosecute human trafficking cases.

The Regular Session starts in January.