UPDATED: ‘Save Chick-fil-A’ agenda has chance in TX Senate

UPDATE: The Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1978 May 16.

AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — A religious liberty effort dubbed the "Save Chick-fil-A" agenda is still alive in the Texas Senate after two House bills failed to thrive.

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The legislation is designed to prevent discrimination based on a person’s religious beliefs and conscience, including biblically based views of marriage. Texas Values dubbed the bills the "Save Chick-fil-A" agenda after the San Antonio City Council banned the restaurant from the San Antonio International airport, complaining that the franchise donates to Christian groups including the Salvation Army.

While the U.S. Constitution already protects religious liberty, state laws can ensure that the Constitution is applied at the local level, a First Liberty Institute attorney told Baptist Press.

"The state has direct control over its own towns, villages, cities, etc., and it’s a lot more difficult for those local entities to violate a Texan’s rights when the Texas statute explicitly prohibits something like that," attorney Keisha Russell said. "I think state statutes aid in protecting religious liberty."

States can protect certain national freedoms at the local level by enacting statutes that replicate federal law, Russell said.

"And if a state feels like there’s a particular issue that it wants to address, the statute is a great way of doing that. I think it helps even the citizens of that state understand how deep and how broad the protections of religious liberty are," Russell said. "I think it’s also worthy for those states to pull on the federal law and pull on the Constitution and say these actions are not allowed because of the Constitution, and really just kind of fall back on that more."

Senate Bill 1978, which passed committee and was placed on the May 14 Senate Intent Calendar of bills available for consideration, would specifically prevent state and local governments from discriminating against individuals or entities based on the individual’s belief about marriage, according to the bill analysis on the Texas Legislature website. The bill was entered as a companion to House Bill 3172, which was returned to committee May 9. And because of House rules, the House bill will not make it back to the floor in time for a vote before the session adjourns May 27.

The House bill takes a broader approach, according to the official analysis, seeking "to prohibit a governmental entity from taking any adverse action against any person based wholly or partly on the person’s membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support provided to a religious organization and to provide for relief if that prohibition is violated."

Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz said the fight is far from over.

"We will not allow the clear will of the majority of Texans and a bipartisan majority of the Texas Legislature to be thwarted by a few," he said after the House bill failed to sustain muster, and pledged to encourage support of the Senate bill. A separate bill designed to protect freedom of conscience, House Bill 1035, was left pending in committee April 13 and is effectively dead this legislative session.

Texas Values voiced its opinion with a "Save Chick-fil-A Day" to promote religious liberty April 17, using the restaurant’s name and logo after the San Antonio City Council blocked the chain from the airport. Chick-fil-A is not involved in the outreach.

First Liberty and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have filed separate inquiries asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the council for violating Chick-fil-A’s religious liberties.

"As we await action by the federal government, First Liberty is still conducting our inquiry into the actions of the San Antonio City Council and will refer all information we discover to the relevant agencies," Russell told BP. "San Antonio deserves to lose all relevant federal funds as a result of its religious bigotry towards Chick-fil-A."

The council decision is included in a string of objections to Chick-fil-A community involvement, stemming from CEO Dan Cathy’s 2012 statement that he supports a "biblical definition of the family."

Chick-fil-A states as its purpose, "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A." All chain locations are closed on Sundays and the family-owned business has repeatedly maintained that it does not discriminate against the LGBT community.

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