Texas Association of Business Comes Out Against Religious Freedom Amendments

State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) and state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)
Jason Villalba photo courtesy Jason Villalba, Donna Campbell photo by Patrick Michels
State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) and state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)

The Texas Association of Business has come out against two religious freedom resolutions that critics say would enshrine a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people in the Texas Constitution.

TAB, which is the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, unanimously adopted a resolution last month opposing House Joint Resolution 55 and Senate Joint Resolution 10, by Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), respectively.

Chris Wallace, president of TAB, said more than 100 members of the board voted to add opposition to the resolutions to the group’s legislative agenda at a statewide meeting Feb. 17.

“We feel that this will certainly make our state look very much unwelcoming when it comes to business recruitment,” Wallace said of the resolutions. “We also have several businesses within the state, our large corporations for instance, that have diversity policies already in place, and what we’re hearing from them is they want their state to look the same way.”

Wallace pointed to the example of Toyota, which is moving its U.S. headquarters to Plano and worked with the city to pass an Equal Rights Ordinance protecting LGBT people against discrimination. He also cited damage to Arizona’s business reputation when similar legislation passed last year before it was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

In addition to LGBT issues, the chamber is concerned the resolutions would allow people to claim religious exemptions to criminal, tax, health and safety, environmental quality and zoning laws. Wallace said the resolutions would also lead to a spike in litigation, costing businesses and taxpayers.

Chris Wallace
Texas Association of Business
Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace

In opposing the ordinances, TAB joins progressive groups, including Equality Texas, the ACLU and the Texas Freedom Network.

“We are a very conservative business association as the state chamber, and it’s not our typical partners we have at the table with us,” Wallace said. “But we’re proud we have these partners at the table with us because we’re all working together to make sure we keep Texas open for business, and that we are seen as a place that welcomes all people and not one that excludes any groups of people.”

In response to the TAB decision, Campbell issued a statement suggesting SJR 10 is business-friendly.

“SJR 10 is about stopping overreaching governments at the local level from forcing Texans to run their businesses in opposition to their values and principles,” Campbell said. “If not for the protection of religious freedom, our nation would not be as diverse and tolerant as it is today for families, employers, and employees of all faiths. A lot of small business owners are going to be awfully disappointed if business groups start selling individual liberty and traditional family values down the river for an unattainable level of political correctness.”

A spokesman for Villalba said the representative was booked for the remainder of the week and wouldn’t be available to discuss the issue.

In addition to opposing the resolutions, Wallace said TAB has joined the newly formed statewide organization Texas Competes, which is dedicated to making the business case for fair treatment of LGBT people.

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

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Published at 9:07 am CST
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