Top firms decry religious exemption bills proposed in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Some of the world’s biggest companies are back to oppose a range of new Texas legislation they say is discriminatory, two years after Apple, Facebook and other Fortune 500 companies banded together with gay rights activists in defeating the state’s “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people.

The corporate giants, which also include Google, Amazon, and IBM, joined Texas businesses and more than a dozen local chambers of commerce in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday urging the Republican-controlled Legislature to focus on other legislation.

“We will continue to oppose any unnecessary, discriminatory, and divisive measures that would damage Texas’ reputation and create problems for our employees and their families,” the letter said. “These include policies that explicitly or implicitly allow for exclusion of LGBTQ people, or anyone else, as well as the preemption of municipal nondiscrimination laws, in whole or in part.”

The bills under fire include several measures seeking to issue protections for those claiming religious belief in refusing services to certain people. One would safeguard medical professionals who decline to perform nonemergency treatment based on their religious convictions.

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Another bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock in West Texas, would aim to give state-licensed professionals broad so-called “faith-based exemption” protections. It would prohibit licensing boards from adopting rules that could limit state-licensed professionals’ ability to obtain or keep a license due to a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Perry said in an emailed statement that there have been attempts around the country to force license holders to take oaths that go against their faith and even suppress their freedom of speech.

“License holders must still follow all state and federal laws and abide by the standard of care in their profession … it is concerning and disappointing that businesses or anyone for that matter would be against protecting one of our basic core principles of who were are as a nation,” Perry said.

In 2017, the companies joined dozens of other powerful firms in opposing a proposal requiring transgender Texans to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. Texas failed to pass that bill despite strong support from social conservatives.

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The main version of the failed Texas bill was similar to the law North Carolina passed in 2016 but then partially repealed in the wake of political and economic backlash.

John Graham, the president and CEO of American Society of Association Executives, said any legislation that would weaken protections for the LGBTQ community would have severe economic consequences in terms of lost jobs and event bookings across Texas.

“And that’s exactly what happened in North Carolina when they passed that bill and they lost billions of dollars and they’re still paying that price,” Graham said at a Wednesday press conference.