- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2017

An ambitious socially conservative agenda — covering issues such as abortion, adoption, religious liberty and transgender bathrooms — is rapidly working its way through the Texas Legislature as the clock ticks down on the legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed into law on Sunday the Sermon Safeguard Bill, which says the government cannot “compel the production or disclosure of a written copy or audio or video recording of a sermon delivered by a religious leader during religious worship.”

“Freedom of religion is the most sacred of our rights — it is what makes us America and is what gave our nation its start,” Mr. Abbott said in a signing statement. “Efforts to erode religious liberty are a threat to all liberty, and our religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that religious freedom is beyond the reach of government.”

The legislation was introduced in direct response to a failed 2014 Houston ballot measure that would have opened public and private restrooms on the basis of gender identity. During the campaign over the ordinance, Houston Mayor Annise Parker subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors who had spoken out against it.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, praised Mr. Abbott for “defending religious liberty and free speech in our state.”

“Government has no right to regulate the speech of pastors or compel them to testify about the content of their sermons,” Mr. Cruz said in a statement. “I am glad that our state leaders have codified into state law these protections that will preserve the right of faith leaders to speak freely about their beliefs.”

The Texas legislative session ends Monday. The last-minute push was made after President Trump signaled that his administration would allow contentious culture fights to play out at the local level.

Other legislation on the docket includes an amendment to regulate public restrooms in Texas on the basis of biological sex, a bill to protect the religious liberty of adoption agencies, and legislation that would ban dismemberment abortions and the sale of fetal tissue.

Progressive groups across the nation have condemned Texas’ legislative flurry.

The Human Rights Campaign demanded that Mr. Abbott veto the adoption bill, which was sent to the governor’s desk on Sunday, arguing that it would allow religious adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, described the bill as “coordinated efforts to pursue discrimination against LGBTQ people instead of focusing on the best interest of all Texans.”

“If signed into law, this bill would most harm the children in Texas’ child welfare system — kids who need a loving, stable home,” Mr. Rouse said in a statement.

Chase Strangio, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Mr. Abbott will have “blood on his hands” if he signs the adoption and bathroom bills into law.

The legislative activity also has inspired a series of colorful protests at the state Capitol.

A group of women dressed up as handmaidens, wearing long red cloaks and white bonnets, roamed through the building this week to oppose the abortion regulations.

Several female Democratic lawmakers used a men’s restroom before the vote on the transgender bathroom bill.

The bathroom bill still faces an uphill battle toward enactment.

Some Republicans said the current version of the legislation, which comes as an amendment to a school safety bill, does not go far enough to address the problem.

They said the bill does not clearly define “biological sex” and would allow schools to add protections against gender identity discrimination to their policies, effectively allowing restroom and locker room use on that basis.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who favors a more comprehensive Texas Privacy Act, has threatened to call a special session if the issue is not resolved in time.

“I also have concerns about its ambiguous language, which doesn’t appear to do much,” Mr. Patrick said in a statement. “There is still time for the House and Senate to address these concerns — which are both priorities for Texas voters — in a meaningful way.”

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