The governor of Texas may soon see the "Save Chick-fil-A" bill appear on his desk.
Since March, lawmakers in Austin and legal groups have been grappling with the City of San Antonio's refusal to allow Chick-fil-A to operate at the San Antonio Airport. Six members of the city council voted to strip the fast-food chain from a contract that includes other businesses set to operate at the airport, claiming it discriminates against same-sex "marriage" by donating to groups such as The Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
In response, legal groups called on the state legislature to act to protect religious freedom.
Earlier this month, HB 3172 fell victim to a parliamentary maneuver headed up by State Representative Julie Johnson (D), an open lesbian and founding member of the Texas House's LGBTQ Caucus. The measure sought to prevent government entities from taking adverse actions against businesses or individuals due to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
But today, SB 1978 – a companion bill – passed the Texas House 79-64 on its third reading, after being approved by the Texas Senate on Thursday on a 19-12 party line vote.
Both HB 3172 and SB 1978 were filed in early March – before the action taken by the San Antonio city council.
After the Senate approves an amendment added by the House, the measure will head to Governor Greg Abbott. He is expected to sign it.
An 'appetite for religious freedom'
Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values explains the lead-up to the vote on SB 1978.
"The Senate bill was revived and the 'Save Chick-fil-A' effort was essentially resurrected – and that's what led to Senate bill 1978 getting final passage this week," the attorney shares.
"A big part of the reasons for Senate Bill 1978 was because the local government in San Antonio voted to ban Chick-fil-A from opening up a store in their airport because there was a report out by a liberal entity called Think Progress complaining that they found out Chick-fil-A had given donations to Christian ministries like The Salvation Army, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and a children's home."
According to Saenz, some LGBT activists wanted to incorrectly label Chick-fil-A as something it's not.
"But a lot of this does have to do with people's religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality – and it's been clear for a long time the government cannot punish you because of those types of beliefs," says Saenz, whose organization operates a website called SaveChickFilA.com.
"The conflict in San Antonio made it very real for legislators – these were not hypotheticals. Chick-fil-A was banned from opening up a store because of this, and that's why I think a bipartisan group of members in the House and Senate had a strong appetite for the religious freedom protections that are now guaranteed in Senate Bill 1978."
5/22/2019 - Comments from Jonathan Saenz added.