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Texas Impact Board: Governor's Refugee Directive Threatens Religious Freedom


Texas Impact’s board of directors issued the following statement in response to Governor Abbott’s directive to state agencies regarding the resettlement of Syrian refugees:

Texas Impact’s board of directors expresses our grave distress regarding Governor Abbott’s letter, dated November 17, instructing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to issue directives to local faith-based organizations active in refugee resettlement regarding the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas.

We are deeply concerned that the Governor’s letter directs those agencies to interfere with the religious freedom of faith-based humanitarian agencies working in Texas. As we read the Governor’s letter, he appears to be directing state agencies to pressure faith-based organizations to violate the sincerely held beliefs of their religious traditions.

We also are deeply concerned that the Governor’s directive to HHSC and DPS will create an untenable conflict for faith-based organizations between directives from the federal agency responsible for refugee resettlement funding and policy in Texas, and the state agency that bears responsibility for awarding a portion of the federal funds.

Attorneys for denominational humanitarian agencies have shared additional concerns regarding unanswered legal questions relating to the Governor’s directive. Those attorneys echo our concerns that the directive infringes on constitutional liberties.

The vicious and inhuman acts perpetrated in Paris, Beirut, and around the world on unsuspecting civilians by terrorists appall people of all faiths. However, Governor Abbott’s fearful response now threatens to provide precisely the reaction terrorists hope to achieve—scapegoating of entire national and religious groups, and division among religious communities. Additionally, it runs roughshod over the freedom of religious humanitarian organizations in Texas to practice their faith.

Faith-based refugee resettlement programs are responsive to their respective denominational structures. We urge the Governor to convene a stakeholder meeting at the earliest opportunity that includes both representatives of all faith-based resettlement agencies active in Texas and their respective religious leadership, so that members of all faith communities have an equal opportunity to engage in the development of emerging state approaches for the resettlement of refugees. We encourage the Governor to include the State Refugee Coordinator and senior DPS officials in this stakeholder meeting.

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