The proponents of religious refusal laws are on the offensive in Texas. As you may have heard, a group of extremists known for aggressive anti-LGBTQ advocacy filed three lawsuits in a matter of hours earlier this month seeking to undermine existing civil rights protections and twist the First Amendment into a new constitutional right to discriminate. This alarming development makes your vote for pro-equality candidates all the more critical.
Steven Hotze, David Welch, Texas Values, and the U.S. Pastors’ Council have filed three coordinated lawsuits intended to blow a huge hole in our nation’s civil rights laws. Hotze, Welch, and Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz are among the most virulent anti-LGBTQ extremists in Texas, known for their incendiary rhetoric and tactics.
They’ve sued the City of Austin in state and federal court seeking to invalidate that city’s non-discrimination ordinance on the grounds that having to treat LGBTQ employees, customers, and tenants fairly violates their religious liberty. And they’ve sued the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in federal court, asking for a nationwide class action on behalf of “all churches” and “all business” who want to discriminate in hiring, firing, and compensation.
The goal of these suits is to roll back the progress we’ve made toward equality and relegate LGBTQ people to permanent second-class status.
So what does all this have to do with voting? Unfortunately, the extremism espoused by the litigants over the years has not made them pariahs in Texas politics. To the contrary, some elected officials in Texas collaborate openly with Hotze, Saenz, Welch, Texas Values, and the Pastors Council, co-hosting events with them at the Capitol, headlining each other’s events, and working together on legislation and strategy. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who sets the agenda in the Texas Senate, is a close ally.
The lawsuits therefore signal what is likely ahead for the 2019 session—rewriting the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, enacting other religious refusal laws, and rolling back the local protections passed by Texas municipalities. As difficult as the 2017 legislative session was, if Hotze, Saenz, and Welch are calling the shots, 2019 will be much worse.
Clearly, the enemies of equality are emboldened, and we must mobilize our community to confront the danger posed by these aggressive new tactics. From now until Election Day, we have to do all we can to elect pro-equality candidates.
Early voting ends November 2, and Election Day is November 6. Make sure you vote and that your friends and family understand what’s at stake.
CEO, Equality Texas