WASHINGTON -- A Texas lawmaker sponsoring a religious freedom proposal invoked the Nazis on Tuesday to fend off criticism that the proposal could be used to facilitate discrimination.
“Should a Jewish bakery have to bake a cake for the neo-Nazi convention coming into town? Nobody would say that. Nor would anybody say a gay florist couple has to give flowers to a Westboro Baptist protest at funerals," state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) told the Austin American-Statesman.
"All it’s saying is that if you feel like it has been burdened, that gives you a chance to go to court to say the government is infringing on my religious freedom because they are forcing me to do this," Krause added.
Krause is proposing an amendment to the state constitution that would require Texas to have a "compelling governmental interest" before it can "burden in any way" a person's free exercise of religion.
His comments come as lawmakers in Indiana and Arkansas are facing national backlash for pushing religious freedom measures that critics say could be used to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens and other groups. An oft-cited example is that a wedding photographer could possibly cite a broad religious freedom law to refuse to work for a same-sex couple.
The Texas proposal does not include precisely the same language as the controversial Indiana law. For example, it does not explicitly state that a person may use religion as a claim or a defense in a lawsuit that doesn't involve the government. However, the Human Rights Campaign contends that language like that contained in the Texas proposal is still problematic.
"Who decides what counts as a burden? These bills are often incredibly vague and light on details -- usually intentionally," HRC wrote on its website. "In practice, most of these bills could empower any individual to sue the government to attempt to end enforcement of a non-discrimination law."
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a civil liberties group, called Krause's comparisons "bizarre and wildly offensive" in a statement on Wednesday.
"His bill could lead to individuals being denied jobs, housing and even public services we all take for granted simply because of who they are and whom they love," she said. "And it would suck Texas into the whirlwind of criticism from businesses and faith leaders that we’re seeing in Indiana.”
Krause did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to the Austin American-Statesman, a committee hearing has not yet been set for the proposed amendment.
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