WilCo Candidate Won’t Settle ‘Religious Test’ Lawsuit

Robert Lloyd says commissioners asked him about his views on abortion and same-sex marriage for a constable appointment.

Robert Lloyd, a WilCo constable candidate.
Robert Lloyd’s a conservative Catholic, but says he apparently wasn’t conservative enough for Williamson County commissioners.

During his 29 years in law enforcement, Robert Lloyd says, he has always tried to respect people’s rights. But when Lloyd interviewed for an appointment to be Williamson County’s Precinct 3 constable in March 2013, he claims that his own rights were violated.

After 15 minutes of routine questions, county commissioners asked about Lloyd’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage. They wanted to know what church he attended, and whether his voting record was Democratic or Republican.

“When I get into a situation where I feel someone has violated my rights, it would be against my nature and what I’ve stood for for 29 years as a cop to let that go,” Lloyd says. “That would be like me seeing a crime and not stepping in and doing something for it.”

Lloyd says his answers weren’t sufficiently conservative, and he didn’t get the position. Instead, it went to Kevin Stofle, whose brother-in-law, Hal Hawes, is the attorney for the Commissioners Court and sat in on the interviews, according to Lloyd’s lawsuit. (Williamson County denies that Hawes attended the interviews.)

With the help of the Texas Civil Rights Project, Lloyd filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that the questions violated his rights under the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as under a provision of the Texas Constitution, which states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State.”

Lloyd was joined by two other plaintiffs, both of whom were applicants for the constable position and were asked similar questions. Those two recently settled with the county for a combined $100,000.

Lloyd says he was offered a similar settlement, but instead insisted on policies and training to prevent officials from asking such questions in the future. The county, he says, has repeatedly refused those demands.

“It’s never been about the money,” says Lloyd, 59, who now teaches criminal justice at Georgetown High School. “The money comes from the voters of Williamson County, and I never wanted to hurt or punish or cause harm to Williamson County voters.”

The county has spent more than $280,000 defending the lawsuit, now set for trial in February.

A county spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to questions about Lloyd’s lawsuit. In media interviews and depositions, commissioners have admitted to asking the questions, but the county maintains the questions were legal because constable is an elected position, and Lloyd would have had difficulty getting re-elected based on his answers. (The previous constable had retired, requiring a temporary appointment until the next election.)

Lloyd, a Catholic Republican, says he told commissioners he is pro-life, except in cases of incest or rape, or to save the life of the mother. He also told them he opposed same-sex marriage, but acknowledged that the world is changing.

One commissioner told Lloyd, “If you are appointed as constable, you better come up with a better answer than that.” Another wrote in her notes that Lloyd’s responses were “not definitive.” Lloyd’s attorney, Wayne Krause Yang, believes Williamson County officials continue to ask similar questions of job applicants.

“I think they believe they can ask those questions, and that they have the right to determine who works in the county based on their religion and the church they go to,” Yang says. “This is plain religious persecution.”

Update: The story has been updated to reflect Williamson County’s denial that Hawes sat in on the interviews.

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Published at 9:32 am CST