- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Two proposed constitutional amendments that supporters say would protect Texans from government intrusion into their free exercise of religion are meeting resistance from a coalition led by a former adviser to George W. Bush that calls the measures discriminatory.

The Texas Wins campaign, announced Wednesday, is a multimillion-dollar effort chaired by Bush’s former media adviser Mark McKinnon that counts among its supporters Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. It aims to tell stories of Texans who’ve faced discrimination in order to discourage lawmakers from supporting the amendments put forward by two Republican lawmakers.

Now starting to percolate through the Texas Legislature, Sen. Donna Campbell’s proposal would prevent the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion while a nearly identical proposal from Rep. Jason Villalba would also apply to a homeowners’ association.

Both bills have been referred to their respective chambers’ state affairs committees. If passed by the Legislature, the proposals would have to be approved by voters before becoming law.

“Some of these pro-discrimination bills, they really would give Texas a black eye,” said Texas Wins spokeswoman Christina Gorczynski.

Villalba, of Dallas, was not available for comment Wednesday. Campbell, of New Braunfels, said in a statement that defending Texans’ rights “is among the most sacred responsibilities of lawmakers, and I am proud to make it one of my top priorities this session.”

After she filed her proposal in November, Campbell said that critics’ representation of the bill as allowing discrimination “is greatly disappointing and wholly inaccurate.”

Her spokesman, Jon Oliver, said the office hasn’t received feedback in support or opposition from business leaders yet.

Gorczynski said a sister organization called Texas Competes represents businesses, although members have not been made public. Both groups are bolstered by lobbying support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Texas and the Texas Freedom Network.

Cuban says he has “little tolerance for discrimination” in his businesses, and he asserts most Fortune 500 companies would agree.

The effort mimics one that business leaders led in Arizona last year, opposing a bill that would have offered a legal defense for individuals and businesses facing a discrimination lawsuit if they could prove they acted on a sincerely held religious belief. Companies including Apple, American Airlines and American Express opposed the bill, which Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed.

Campbell filed a similar proposal in 2013 that stalled in committee. She said in a statement the Senate was more conservative now, and so “we are optimistic that the evidence of recent violations of Texans’ religious liberty will lead to its passage.”

In January, the Texas Freedom Network held a legislative briefing on the proposals. The network’s president, Kathy Miller, called them a “misuse of religion” that would exempt people from following the law.

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