MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 4th of June, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up, a game of chicken between the Texas legislature and LGBT groups.
REICHARD: Or more specifically, a chicken sandwich. The Texas legislature passed a law nicknamed the “Save Chick-fil-A Bill.” It would protect individuals and private businesses from government discrimination against religious beliefs.
BASHAM: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will likely sign the bill into law. WORLD correspondent and native Texan Katie Gaultney joins us now to talk about it.
Katie, it seems like Chick-fil-A is always in someone’s crosshairs because of its owners’ Christian beliefs. Give us the background on this situation.
GAULTNEY: Sure. In March, the San Antonio City Council voted 6 to 4 to approve a new contract with an airport concessions vendor. But that approval had one condition: the vendor had to replace the existing airport Chick-fil-A with another restaurant. Then some councilmembers made public statements about how that decision was motivated by the company’s charitable donations to groups like Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Salvation Army. The councilmembers claimed those groups discriminate against homosexuals. Chick-fil-A responded by noting the bulk of the donations in question just supported programs for kids, like summer camps for inner-city youth and the Angel Tree program.
BASHAM: So how did state lawmakers get involved?
GAULTNEY: Despite multiple complaints, San Antonio’s city council is sticking to its guns and still effectively trying to evict Chick-fil-A from the airport. It’s not even fazed by a U.S. Department of Transportation investigation. Interestingly, the bill in Texas had been introduced a couple of weeks before the whole dust-up with Chick-fil-A in San Antonio. It was strictly a religious freedom measure. But once the Chick-fil-A controversy grew, lawmakers in favor of the bill had a perfect example of the kind of discrimination they are trying to prevent.
BASHAM: A poster child for their bill, huh? Ok. So what exactly does the bill do?
GAULTNEY: The bill prevents “any governmental entity” in Texas from bringing “adverse actions” against any person because of his or her sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions. Those actions could include denying contracts or withholding payment or grants. And the bill states expressly that moral convictions include beliefs about marriage. If a government entity violates the law, the person who was wronged could be entitled to attorney fees and injunctive relief to set things straight. And “person” in this case could mean an individual, but the intent is to protect private businesses, like Chick-fil-A, whose owners are conservative Christians.
BASHAM: So what makes this bill unique? I mean, Chick-fil-A is all but nationwide. Do other states have similar laws?
GAULTNEY: On some level, yes. Many states do have RFRA laws—Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. But they are notoriously hard to pass and enforce nowadays. In today’s pro-LGBT climate, these laws are kind of a political non-starter. But clearly, the question of how to reconcile LGBT rights and religious freedom has not gone away. I actually talked to Jonathan Saenz, whose group Texas Values did a lot of advocacy for the Save Chick-fil-A bill. Here’s what he told me about why this bill had more success than religious freedom bills in other states:
SAENZ: I think part of what you’re seeing though, as far as like the Save Chick-fil-A religious freedom bill, Senate bill 1978, these are laws that are very specific in their application. So the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has language that can be considered a little bit more broad.
Saenz also mentioned Texas’ “Pastor Protection” law from 2015 as another example of a specific religious freedom bill. That one protected the rights of pastors in the state not to perform weddings that violate their beliefs about marriage. So it sounds like the key is focusing more specifically—in this case, on the government not retaliating against individuals or businesses for their religious beliefs or donations.
BASHAM: I’m wondering, is there any downside to this? What’s to stop liberal universities, for example, from citing these kinds of laws as cover for discriminating against Christian beliefs? They could claim secular humanism as a sincerely held belief. So where does it end?
GAULTNEY: I had the same question, Megan. Just recently, Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kristen Waggoner was scheduled to speak at Yale, only to be barred from campus by the university after lots of protests. And administrators followed that up by implementing campus-wide restrictions around individuals and groups that they deem “discriminatory,” or in other words, conservative. Here’s Saenz again:
SAENZ: And they want their politics to really override the First Amendment. And that’s a really dangerous direction to go. So it’s very important for people to step up and say, this is not how this is supposed to work. It’s never worked this way. And we’re not going to just stand by and watch it happen.
So yes, there are increasing threats to religious liberty, and to Saenz’s point, it’s up to constituents across the country to tell their representatives that the Yales of the world are in the wrong.
BASHAM: Well, leave it to Texans to blaze a trail and speak their minds, huh? Katie Gaultney, thanks for bringing us this report.
GAULTNEY: You’re welcome, Megan.