Evangelical Christian groups have filed multiple lawsuits across Texas arguing that businesses have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ workers… because religion. They’re arguing that they shouldn’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else solely on the basis of their faith. And unlike the lawsuits involving Christian bakers and florists, this has nothing to do with “endorsing” same-sex marriage.
The Christians in these cases just want the power to discriminate against gay people, period.
The US Pastors Council and Texas Values, two nonprofit evangelical groups, filed multiple lawsuits in state and federal court last week, claiming that Christian businesses and churches have a constitutional right to fire — or not hire — LGBTQ workers.
One lawsuit challenges the federal Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against job candidates and workers based on their religion, sex, gender, and race. Two other lawsuits seek to strike down part of an Austin city ordinance that prohibits employers from discriminating against similar groups, and explicitly includes protections based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
In one of the lawsuits filed Saturday against the city of Austin, lawyers for Texas Values said the organization will not comply with the law.
“Texas Values will not hire or retain practicing homosexuals or transgendered people as employees, because their lifestyles are contrary to the biblical, Judeo–Christian understandings of sexuality and gender that Texas Values seeks to promote,” they wrote in the complaint.
Love the sinner. Hate the sin. And ignore the first thing we said.
It’s no surprise that conservative Christians would love to discriminate if only the government would get out of their way, but in Texas it seems like there’s a coordinated effort to make that the law of the land. In a state controlled by Republicans, and in a country with Donald Trump at the helm, that is a pretty terrifying prospect.
The lawsuits mark a new front in the evangelical battle against the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Both right-wing Texas groups were outspoken in the fight against the spread of so-called “bathroom bills,” which allow transgender individuals to use public restrooms designated for their identified gender.
While state and federal laws do allow individuals — and business owners — to exercise their religious beliefs, it will be hard for employers to make the case that religious freedom allows them to ignore civil rights laws.
Whether the Christians here want to accept it or not, businesses are bound by anti-discrimination laws that exist for a reason: Without them, the most vulnerable people in our society would suffer. If the protections were gone, devout Christians could theoretically be on the chopping block as well… though it’s hard to imagine progressive business owners holding someone’s private religious views against them in the same way conservative Christians want to.
These evangelicals care more about forcing their own interpretations of the Bible on their employees than fighting for equality. It’s a perspective that shouldn’t hold any weight in court.
Separation of Church and State?
Let’s just hope the judges feel the same way.
Texas Values (2012)
Liberty Institute/Texas Values (formerly Free Market Foundation)
Liberty Institute has become one of the best-funded far-right groups in Texas. Its head is Kelly Shackelford, an attorney who previously worked for the right-wing Rutherford Institute.
The Free Market Foundation changed its name to Liberty Institute in late 2009. The group also dropped the name of Liberty Legal for its legal arm. In 2012 the group reorganized and created Texas Values as an entity within Liberty Institute that focuses on public policy issues in Texas. Jonathan Saenz is the president and Austin-based lobbyist for Texas Values. Liberty Institute reintroduced itself as a litigation group with a focus on issues across the country.
It seems the fight for Saenz is quite personal, especially since his ex-wife reportedly left him for another woman, and Saenz unsuccessfully attempted to stop her partner from being in the presence of their children, according to an article from Lone Star Q:
Court records indicate that Saenz’s ex-wife, Corrine Morris Rodriguez Saenz, is a member of the LGBT community who was dating another woman when she filed for divorce from Saenz in August 2011.
In early 2012, with their divorce still pending, Saenz would take the helm of Texas Values after the organization spun off from the Liberty Legal Institute, where he’d risen to chief lobbyist.
With Saenz as president, Texas Values has led the charge against not only same-sex marriage, but also passage of LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in San Antonio and Houston. In fighting the ordinances, Saenz has often repeated the debunked right-wing myth that sexual predators would use the laws to prey on women and children in bathrooms.
During their divorce, Jonathan Saenz unsuccessfully sought to permanently bar Corrine Saenz’s girlfriend from being in the presence of the children, records show. At one point, he also sought to jail his ex-wife for failing to undergo an evaluation by a psychologist of his choosing—even though he refused to pay the psychologist’s $2,500 fee.
Both Corrine and Jonathan Saenz agreed to psychological evaluations as part of the divorce, but results aren’t included in the case file. However, court records suggest Jonathan Saenz had a prior history of mental health treatment. During discovery in the divorce, Jonathan Saenz sought to compel his ex-wife to produce all records in her possession “pertaining to the psychiatric, psychological, counseling or other mental health treatments of Jonathan Saenz, including but not limited to any documents relating to any consultations or treatments during their marriage.”
In her original petition for divorce, Corrine Saenz alleged their marriage was “insupportable due to discord or conflict of personalities … that destroys the legitimate ends of marriage and prevents reasonable expectations of reconciliation.” In his initial response, Jonathan Saenz denied that claim and asked the court to refuse to grant the divorce on those grounds.
Jonathan Saenz also sought an order barring Corrine Saenz from allowing “any unrelated adult, with whom the parent has an intimate, romantic, emotional, and/or dating relationship to remain in the presence of the children, including but not limited to Ercimin Paredes, a/k/a Ercilia M. Paredes.”
Paredes was Corrine Saenz’s girlfriend, court records indicate, and they both taught at Becker Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District.
The organization lobbies at the Texas Legislature and the State Board of Education. It opposed the re-election of state Rep. Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House in 2011 and 2013.
The organization has worked to mobilize conservative Christian pastors as a strategy in advancing its political agenda. For example, the group played a prominent role in helping organize and promote the Texas Restoration Project. The Restoration Project held a series of “Pastor Policy Briefings” that drew thousands of pastors and their spouses to events in Austin, Dallas Houston and San Antonio.
The group has inserted itself into legal battles ranging from religion in public schools to gay rights. For example, Liberty Institute represented the Ector County Independent School District (Odessa, Texas) in its unsuccessful effort in 2007-08 to use a blatantly sectarian and error-riddled curriculum for public school classes about the Bible. The school district agreed in March 2008 to stop using that curriculum (from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools) and adopt a new one for use in its high school courses about the Bible.
Texas Values has also worked to undermine the teaching of evolution in science classrooms and in 2009 supported the State Board of Education’s controversial revision of new history curriculum standards that the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has criticized as “a politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”
Houston Area Pastor Council (US Pastor Council, Texas Pastor Council)
The Houston Area Pastor Council/Texas Pastor Council/US Pastor Council mobilizes clergy behind right-wing causes in Houston and at the state level. In recent years the rabidly anti-gay group has led a smear campaign against Annise Parker, who won election as Houston’s first only gay mayor in 2009. The group has called Parker a “sodomite” and attacked her for supposedly trying to “impose” a “San Francisco-style Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender” agenda on the city. It has also criticized her support for same-sex marriage. The group’s leader, Dave Welch, called a federal judge a “domestic enemy” and compared her to terrorists for ruling against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the now-ended policy barring openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.
Welch says progressive clergy “disgust me” and has suggested that they are not “real” pastors. He has testified before the State Board of Education, including in favor of an anti-Muslim resolution (2010) and requiring students to learn creationist arguments against evolution in public school science classes (2009).
The organization opposed the re-election of state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, as speaker of the Texas House in 2011. A major fundraiser in 2013 featured Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Baylor University President Ken Starr. In 2014 they featured Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton.