Rep. White files bill that would allow business owners to refuse service based on religious grounds

Eleanor Dearman

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) filed a bill that, if passed, would allow private business owners to refuse business to people based on the owner’s religion or on “conscientious grounds.” 

HB 2553, filed Friday, would edit the State Business and Commerce code and prevent private business owners from being compelled to provide goods and services that are “in violation of that business owner’s sincerely held religious or personal beliefs.” It would also remove owner liability for refusing goods or service based on these same grounds.

White said the bill was a response to cases across the nation in which private business owners were sued after refusing to serve customers, citing a 2007 New Mexico case and 2013 Oregon case. 

In 2013, the owner of an Oregon cake shop refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and was fined for her actions. In another case, a New Mexico photographer refused to take commitment ceremony photos for same-sex couple Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth in 2007. New Mexico ruled the case as discriminatory.

“Certain small business owners, private business owners, are being sued for refusing service to people who violate their conscientious beliefs, their religious beliefs,” White said.  “We just want to put some protective measures here in our great state of Texas — giving private business owners religious liberties without fear.”

Rev. Michael Diaz from Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church said he believes the bill will undermine non-discrimination ordinances in Texas cities. Currently there are non-discrimination ordinances in Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, Plano, Houston and San Antonio. He said he is worried the bill’s vagueness will lend itself to discrimination of the LGBT community, single moms and ethic, racial and religious minorities, among other groups.

“It is troubling when we go back to the idea that the reason why we discriminate is because of religious freedom,” Diaz said. “If you want to discriminate, just call it discrimination. Don’t call it religious freedom.”

White said private business owners could refuse to provide services to those carrying concealed handguns, those who smoke in a business, or those who violate beliefs, such as those exemplified in the New Mexico and Oregon cases.

“Every individual has rights and liberties to serve whom they want to based on religious convictions,” White said. “That’s pretty much just trying to reinforce my belief system on that.”

White’s bill will encourage discrimination of LGBT community, according to Rogelio Meza, biology senior and Queer Students Alliance co-director. 

“The LGBT community will be greatly affected by this because, not only do we go through discrimination on a daily basis, but this bill is basically encouraging Texas to say, ‘Hey, discriminate, because we’re not going to do anything to you,’” Meza said.

White is no stranger to controversy this legislative session. White drew criticism for a Facebook status she posted Jan. 29 during Texas Muslim Capitol Day, an annual event hosted by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for Muslims to voice their legislative priorities and advocate for religious tolerance. In the status, White asked Muslim visitors to publicly pledge allegiance to the United States.

Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) said he believes this bill does not reflect Texas as a whole.

“This bill comes from the same freshman state representative who made national headlines during Muslim Day at the Capitol,” Rodriguez said in an email. “This type of legislation is hateful and does not reflect Texas values.”