Still free: Texas governor signs pastor protection bill

by Gregory Tomlin |

(TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL/Facebook)Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shakes hands with supporters of Senate Bill 2065, the Pastor Protection Act, which he signed into law June 11. The law offers clergy immunity from civil or criminal actions for refusing to provide wedding services, facilities, or support for marriages they find objectionable on religious grounds. The law also states clergy do not have to perform or solmenize marriages if the union contradicts their faith.

AUSTIN, Texas (Christian Examiner) – With the Supreme Court set to rule on same-sex marriage at the end of June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law an act offering legal protections to pastors who refuse to solemnize or participate in a marriages they find objectionable on religious grounds.

Abbott said when signing the law, written by Sen. Craig Estes [R-Wichita Falls], "pastors now have the freedom to exercise their First Amendment Rights."

"Freedom of religion is the most sacred of our rights and our freedom to worship is guaranteed by the Constitution," the governor said. "Religious leaders in the state of Texas must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that religious freedom is beyond the reach of government or coercion by the courts."

Senate Bill 2065 states religious organizations, individuals employed by a religious organization and clergy "may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief."

Religious leaders in the state of Texas must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that religious freedom is beyond the reach of government or coercion by the courts.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

The law also states that a refusal to provide services, goods, accommodations, facilities or privileges "is not the basis for a civil or criminal cause of action or any other action by this state or a political subdivision of this state to penalize or withhold benefits or privileges, including tax exemptions or governmental contracts, grants, or licenses, from any protected organization or individual."

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also issued a statement at the signing of the bill. He said the state had taken a "small but important step to further protect the religious freedom of clergy in the face of increasing hostility toward people of faith in all walks of life."

Patrick also said clergy should never be compelled to participate in or perform marriage ceremonies they find objectionable on religious grounds.

While the bill has been received positively by conservatives, some say the bill does not go far enough and are asking Abbott to call a special legislative session to extend the same protections to business owners.

"A judicial fiat to undermine traditional marriage would create cultural chaos," Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative political action group, wrote. "The Texas legislature passed a bill in hopes of protecting pastors from being forced to perform same-sex marriages, but no provision was made to protect other businesses like bakeries or floral shops that decline to support such ceremonies."

Adams said the special session was necessary to protect against "judicial supremacy." Abbott, however, has said there will be no special session to deal with same-sex marriage, citing the state's already-existing constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman. It is a constitutional amendment Abbott successfully while attorney general for the state.

The potential for legal trouble, however, is real.

In February, State District Judge David Wahlberg ordered Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvior to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple after their lawyer petitioned the court for the license. Another Travis County judge also ruled in February that the state's constitutional amendment upholding traditional marriage was "unconstitutional."

Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately filed a request for the State Supreme Court to stay the judge's decision. The state's high court halted both district court rulings.