Texas challenges California ban on travel to Lone Star State over religious beliefs law

©Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an action Monday in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to strike down California’s ban on state-funded travel to Texas in the wake of a law that was viewed as discriminatory against LGBTQ people.

In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3859, which allowed child welfare service providers to deny services to Texans based on conflicts with their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” At the time, critics said the law allowed faith-based adoption agencies to deny placing children for reasons such as religion, sexuality or a person’s gender identity.

Meanwhile, supporters said the provision protected providers’ “right of conscience” and stressed it required that anyone turned away be referred to another agency.

California added Texas to its list of states banned for non-essential, state-funded travel after Abbott signed the bill in June that year.

“The law California opposes does not prevent anyone from contributing to child-welfare; in fact, it allows our state to partner with as many different agencies as possible to expand the number of safe and loving homes available to foster children,” Paxton said in a statement. “Boycotting states based on nothing more than political disagreement breaks down the ability of states to serve as laboratories of democracy while still working together as one nation — the very thing our Constitution intended to prevent.”

Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, said in an email Monday that their office is reviewing the complaint.

In Monday’s news release, Paxton pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple, as evidence that disparaging religious beliefs “is inappropriate for any entity charged with enacting fair and neutral laws.”

Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights, said in a statement Monday night that the 2017 law allows organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ Texans, while children who could otherwise be adopted are put at risk. Martinez called Paxton’s defense of religious liberty “a false argument.”

“When the President called publicly for ‘a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ and filed an executive order, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was the first to support it,” Martinez said in the statement, referring to President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from eight predominately Muslim countries. “So, when Mr. Paxton invokes religious liberty, we know that he has no intention of applying this standard equally across people of all faiths.”

Texas is one of 11 states on California’s banned list, and the move followed the California legislature’s decision in 2016 to prohibit state-sponsored travel to states that permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Other states banned from state travel include Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee, according to the California Attorney General’s website. Just last month Oklahoma retaliated with a ban of its own, becoming the first state to do so, according to The Sacramento Bee.

At the time, it was unclear if the Texas ban also applied to coaches of sports teams for California’s public universities. However, lawmakers and university athletic teams found other avenues to pay for trips to banned states, relying on private donations or campaign contributions, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Texas is one of at least 17 states that doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes. There is no federal law that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination, and it’s a question the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing.

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