Op-Ed: Why religious liberties must be protected

As 2015 comes to a close, it is essential we reflect on the progress that we’ve made and the work yet to be done to protect religious liberties. Religious liberty is the underpinning of our nation and Constitution, and the battle to protect that precious freedom should be fought just as strongly today as it was in 1776.

It’s no wonder that nearly half of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence held seminary or Bible school degrees. Nor is it surprising that John Hancock, the first signer of that American history founding document, said, “Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. … Continue steadfast and, with a proper sense of your dependence on God, nobly defend those rights which heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us.”

Yet, efforts to take those rights from us are still at work: challenges to our national motto, “In God We Trust,” on police cars in Childress; city officials in Orange removing a public Christmas nativity scene out of litigation fears from a group of atheists; or Beaumont city leaders initially blocking police officers from voluntarily participating in Bible studies during their lunch hour.

I took a stand to support religious freedoms on each of these issues and previously led the way to have “In God We Trust” permanently placed in the Texas Senate chamber, added “Under God” to our state pledge, co-authored the “Merry Christmas” bill to combat political correctness in our schools and established an annual Christmas tree tradition in the Texas Senate for the first time in at least 70 years. I was proud to speak out and I will always fight for a nation that was founded upon the Old and New Testaments.

Imagine telling brave men and women who take a potentially life-threatening vow to “Serve, Protect and Defend” that they can’t, on their own time, study their Bible or pray to be kept safe during their work shift. Fortunately, Beaumont city leaders realized trying to keep police officers from Bible studies and prayer was an infringement on the officers’ First Amendment rights; they backed down after I asked them to reconsider.

These scenarios seem all too common in our country that specifically guarantees the free exercise of religion through the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. That’s why the Texas Senate has taken action to reaffirm First Amendment religious liberty protections.

In this year’s legislative session, the Senate passed the Pastors Protection Act to protect houses of worship, religious organizations and their employees and pastors from being required to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies if it would violate their religious beliefs. It also protects such employees, pastors and organizations from lawsuits arising out of the exercise of their First Amendment right.

I also have charged the Senate State Affairs Committee with the task of studying and recommending how the state of Texas should work to affirm the constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty protections of all Texans. The committee is scheduled to have its first hearing on this issue on Feb. 17. As John Hancock penned so many years ago, it is the “Christian and social duty” of all of us to “defend those rights which heaven gave.”

I hope you will join me and the Texas Senate in fighting to preserve our religious freedom. May God bless you and the great state of Texas.