What Is SB-17 Bill? Texas Bill Could Allow Licensed Professionals to Deny Services Based on Religion, Sexual Identity

Texas lawmakers could pass a bill that would allow licensed professionals to deny services based on their religious beliefs.

The bill, known as Senate Bill 17, advanced to the Senate on Monday night, the Dallas Morning News reported. The bill was introduced by Senator Charles Perry and would allow anyone with a state license, such as lawyers, doctors and real estate agents, to deny their services to anyone because of their religious beliefs, according to the publication.

Kali Cohn, the staff attorney for ACLU Texas, told Newsweek that if this bill is passed, the bill could affect LGBTQ people and licensing professionals could turn them away.

“This law could particularly affect LGBTQ Texans and make them vulnerable to discrimination,” Cohn said. “I think that we can see all sorts of discrimination. It covers counselors, teachers and people who are certified professionals. It can really create an environment of people to deny others based on someone's identity, particularly to LGBTQ people.”

During the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday night, the bill passed it with a vote of 7-1 and will be sent to the Senate for further debate, the Dallas Morning News reported. The bill would allow medical professionals to cite their religion to refuse medical treatment to anyone, with the exception of "necessary to prevent death or imminent bodily injury," according to the bill.

"This bill seeks to ensure that no person is hindered from seeking an occupational license, or loses their license, based on their faith," Perry said. "This bill does not—I repeat, this bill does not permit an individual to violate state or federal law."

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The Rainbow Flag at Copenhagen Pride Week 2018's main venue at the City Hall Square renamed Pride Square on August 14, 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Texas could pass a bill that could allow licensed professionals to deny services to anyone based on their religious beliefs. Ole Jensen - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Jessica Shortall, the managing director of Texas Competes, a coalition of businesses and pro-business organizations in Texas, told Newsweek that it could particularly affect those who are transgender.

“Licensed professionals could pick and choose who to work with or care for simply because they profess to be uncomfortable with who they are,” Shortall said.

Rasha Zeyadeh, a civil rights attorney with the law office of Rob Wiley PC in Texas, says that this could also affect people with different religious beliefs, like Muslims and Jewish people.

"If this bill passes, it would open up the gates of legal discrimination. It would turn down everyone and anyone of their beliefs, specifically in the LGBTQ community," said Zeyadeh. "Should this bill pass, I think it will in essence wide-spread legal discrimination."

On Wednesday, businesses like Apple, Dell, Amazon, Facebook, wrote a letter to Texas lawmakers criticizing the bill and Senate Bill 15, which would give the local government control of employee's paid leave policies, according to the Dallas Morning News. Senate Bill 15 would also gut the enforcement of non-discrimination ordinances for LGBTQ citizens living in Texas, which protect LGBTQ people from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in employment.

"We will continue to oppose any unnecessary, discriminatory, and divisive measures that would damage Texas' reputation and create problems for our employees and their families," the letter reads, according to the publication. "These include policies that explicitly or implicitly allow for the exclusion of LGBTQ people."

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling that it was a constitutional right for a Colorado baker to deny service to a gay couple in 2012 based on his religious beliefs. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to sell a wedding cake to Charlie Craig and David Mullins because of his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court decision left the question open if a business can discriminate against LGBTQ people despite laws that are in place to stop this kind of discrimination.

Correction: The article misquoted Jessica Shortall, the managing director of Texas Competes. The correct quote is “Licensed professionals could pick and choose who to work with or care for simply because they profess to be uncomfortable with who they are,” not “Licensed professionals could pick and choose who to work with based on someone's identity and not being comfortable with someone's lifestyle."