Critics of religious freedom bill said it would legalize discrimination

The Texas Senate has approved a bill that would grant state-licensed professionals the right to deny services to anyone who they sincerely believe conflicts with their religious beliefs. However, critics of the bill say this would be a "license to discriminate."

The bill received bipartisan support in the Senate this week and will head to the House next for consideration.    

Senate Bill 17, proposed by Republican Senator Charles Perry from Lubbock and co-sponsored by two Houston senators, Brandon Creighton and Paul Bettencourt, was approved by a 19-12 vote this week. 

Bettencourt said the bill would grant protection to people of any religion to express their "sincerely held beliefs." 

"We're not really giving people of faith a chance to express their faith and not be put into a position where they feel that expression is compromised. Either somebody applying for a license to be denied by faith or being revoked for practicing their faith and that's really the basis of the law," said Bettencourt, who represents District 7. 

However, many opponents of SB-17, like Lou Weaver with Equality Texas, fears this bill would make it legally acceptable for licensed professionals to deny service to certain groups or people they don't like and attribute it to their religious beliefs. 

"As a queer, transgender man, I need to know that I can navigate society the same way that any other Texan can. This is a direct attack on the LGBTQ community because we don't have any other protections across the country. It's really disheartening to hear our elected officials say that it's ok to discriminate," Weaver said.

There are roughly 150 different jobs in Texas that require a state, occupational-license to work including doctors, lawyers, beauticians, barbers, towing and booting operators, dog walkers, and bartenders.

Although the bill would not apply to life-saving care professionals like police officers, first responders and emergency care doctors, Weaver fears the impact it could have on those living in small parts of the state. 

"In some rural places, there's not an option of multiple doctors, multiple tow truck drivers, multiple hair stylists," Weaver said. 

Texas Competes, a business alliance said they fear the economic consequences the bill could have on the state. In a statement, the coalition said, “If LGBTQ people and others have reason to fear for quality of life and access to health care and other basic services for themselves and their families, employers will have difficulties in recruiting top talent to stay in or move to Texas. For that reason, SB-17 could impact corporate investment and tourism, Texas’ #2 industry.” 

Bettencourt responded to critics' comments saying the bill's intention has been misinterpretated. He added that there are still federal hate-crime laws in place that would protect that certains groups from facing discrimination.    

If the bill passes through the House, it will then be up to Governot Abbott to sign it into law.