Texas Senate passes bill allowing for refusal of services based on religious beliefs

The Texas Senate has passed Senate Bill 17 with a vote of 19 to 12.

SB 17, by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), relates to the discrimination of any state agency against an applicant for or holder of an occupational license based on "a sincerely held religious belief."

According to the bill, any state agency that issues licenses or otherwise regulates businesses, occupations or professions cannot adopt policies or impose any penalties that limit an applicant's or license holder's ability to obtain, maintain or renew a license or burdens their free exercise of religion, freedom of speech regarding their religious beliefs, or membership in any religious organization.

The bill does not apply to first responders and does not prohibit a state agency from taking action to ensure the standard of care for applicable busineses, occupations or professions is satisfied.

It also doesn't allow a license holder to refuse to provide medical service that is necessary to prevent death or imminent serious bodily injury.

It also allows a person to assert that a state agency rule or imposed penalty violates the bill as a defense in an administrative hearing or judicial proceeding, except in defense to an allegation of sexual misconduct or prosecution of an offense.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick expressed support for the bill's passage in a statement.

“Senate Bill 17 will ensure that no Texan will ever have to choose between their job and their faith," Patrick said. "Preserving religious liberty has, and will always be, one of my top priorities, and I congratulate Sen. Perry on passing this important legislation. Senate Bill 17 will protect Texans of all religious faiths.”

The bill was co-sponsored by state Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville).

To read the text of the bill, click here.