'Save Chick-fil-A' Religious Freedom Bill Advances In Texas Legislature

The measure would effectively permit businesses to be openly anti-LGBTQ without fear of retaliation.

A bill to protect businesses like Chick-fil-A that donates to anti-LGBTQ groups passed in the Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The measure moves now to the state Senate, where a version of the bill passed last week, for a final vote before heading to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Dubbed the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill, SB 1978 would prohibit government entities from taking “adverse action” against individuals or organizations for their “membership in, affiliation with, or contribution ... to a religious organization.”

Proponents say the measure is necessary to protect businesses like Chick-fil-A, a proudly anti-LGBTQ fast food company which was barred earlier this year from opening in the San Antonio International Airport.

The San Antonio City Council voted 6-4 in March to remove Chick-fil-A from a concession agreement with the city’s airport. 

“San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior,” Councilman Roberto Treviño said, according to NBC News.

Opponents of SB 1978 say the so-called “religious liberty” measure will largely serve to license discrimination against LGBTQ communities.

“This bill is going to pass; let’s face it,” state Rep. Celia Israel (D) said Monday, according to The Texas Tribune. “It’s been cloaked in religious freedom, but the genesis, the nexus of this bill, is in hatred.”

Members of the Texas House’s LGBTQ caucus killed an earlier version of the measure, HB 3172, through a parliamentary maneuver at the beginning of May.

But the Texas Senate revived the legislation with SB 1978 and voted on it last week without notifying the public or eliciting feedback from constituents, according to NBC.

State Rep. Julie Johnson (D), a founding member of the LGBTQ Caucus, in an interview with NBC called the Senate bill “a concerted effort to violate the constitutional protections that we’ve had for centuries with the separation of church and state.”

During Monday’s first House vote on the legislation, lawmakers approved an amendment to remove a provision that would allow Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to bring lawsuits against potential violators of the statute. Individuals and organizations, though, would be able to sue entities they believe to have violated the statute and may seek representation from religious liberty firms like the First Liberty Institute, the Texas Tribune notes.

The state Senate must approve the House’s amendment before the bill goes to Abbott for a signature. The governor is expected to sign the bill as this tweet from Monday evening indicates:

In a Facebook post on Monday, Johnson vowed to continue fighting the legislation.

“I have no doubt that SB 1978 will be fought in the courts at every level and at great expense to the taxpayers,” Johnson wrote. “The members who voted yes on SB 1978 today effectively signed their signatures on that invoice. We will remember next November.”