Texas Impact: SB 2065 and HB 3567 Threaten First Amendment Rights for Some Denominations
AUSTIN—Texas Impact, Texas’ oldest and largest statewide interfaith advocacy network, remains opposed to SB 2065 and HB 3567 because the bills contain provisions that could increase lawsuits within churches and denominations.
Legal experts from Texas Impact’s member denominations say the bills limit religious freedom by allowing clergy and other employees to sue their employer denomination if their beliefs conflict concerning marriage.
Proponents of SB 2065 and HB 3567 describe the bills as “pastor protection” and say they are necessary to shield members of the clergy from future lawsuits should the U.S. Supreme Court rule that same-sex marriage prohibitions are unconstitutional.
However, as written, the bills would create a cause of action for clergy and other church employees to sue their employers if they are disciplined for disobeying denominational policies regarding marriage.
Attorneys for several mainline Protestant denominations provided the authors of both bills with amendment language to address their concerns, but neither author accepted the language. The amendment language would clarify that the bills are not intended to create a cause of action for lawsuits within denominations.
“No church wants lawsuits—from outside the church or from within. It would be simple to amend these bills to address the concerns of all denominations so that everyone could support them. Instead, lawmakers seem to favor certain church structures over others,” Texas Impact Executive Director Bee Moorhead said.
Dozens of pastors testified for the bill in public hearings in the House and Senate. Supporters were overwhelmingly Baptist, with different accountability structures than “connectional” denominations such as the United Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches.
“As currently written, both SB 2065 and HB 3567 intrude on denominational management and discipline of clergy, discipline that is fundamental to various denominational structures and freely entered into by pastors in those denominations,” Moorhead said. “We will continue to urge the legislature to adopt language we are offering to correct the bills and prevent the intrusion of the state into religious choice.”
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