On Tuesday, the Harris County Commissioner Court in Texas voted to impose a new government policy that had been rejected by Harris County voters in 2015. The county, which covers most of the Houston Metro area, will now include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (abbreviated as “SOGI”) as protected classes for county employment purposes.
In a 3-2 party-line vote, the court added SOGI protections into the Harris County Personnel and Procedures Handbook. The revised handbook prohibits harassment or discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, a controversial provision that often adversely affects those who adhere to traditional sexuality, including conservative Christians. Many lesbians and gays have spoken out against transgender protections, since a policy based on “gender identity” would result in erasing privacy protections for individuals on the basis of biological sex (by allowing biological males into women’s restrooms, for example).
“Democrat county commissioners are putting politics over common sense policy for the people with their support of this controversial LGBT policy crafted behind closed doors,” Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz said in a statement on the policy. “The lack of transparency on this controversial ‘Ban the Bible’ styled policy is more evidence that it’s wrong to put the government against people of faith. The people of Houston have consistently said ‘no’ to these Ban The Bible policies. This is just more evidence of local governments bypassing public input in order to fulfill their own liberal agendas.”
Indeed, Harris County voters rejected a SOGI ordinance by a wide margin in 2015: 61 percent to 39 percent. Saenz also noted that the City of Laredo, southwest of Houston, tabled such a measure last November.
The Texas Values president faulted the Harris County Commissioner Court for not disclosing its intentions to the public. “The agenda for the June 25 meeting said the commissioners were adopting a policy that would prohibit discrimination and harassment as compliant with federal and state law. This is false,” Texas Values argued. “The board planned to vote on sexual orientation and gender identity language at the request of Harris County Commissioner of Precinct 1, Rodney Ellis, who was appointed to the position recently but is up for election on the upcoming county ballot.”
Saenz argued that the “lack of transparency of the agenda” gave Harris County residents no notice. Had residents known, they might have appeared to testify. Only four people addressed the issue before the vote.
The Texas legislature adopted a religious freedom bill — Senate Bill 1978 — which protects licensed professionals such as doctors, accountants, lawyers, and counselors from disciplinary action from state boards when they act on their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
SOGI policies led the firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran and Georgia Health Department official Dr. Eric Walsh. Cochran was fired in a controversy over his Bible study book, which promoted marriage as between one man and one woman. He sued and Atlanta settled his case for $1.2 million. Walsh was fired after videos of his sermons on homosexuality and evolution surfaced. He sued and Georgia settled the case for $225,000.
Jack Phillips, is a Christian baker who gladly serves LGBT people but refused to bake custom cakes to celebrate a same-sex wedding or transgender identity. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that he had discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite the Supreme Court finding that the Commission had violated Phillips’s right to free exercise of religion, the Commission went after him again. Just this month, he was sued yet again.
Those who wish to operate their businesses according to their conscience on these issues have been demonized. Phillips was compared to a Nazi, even though his father liberated concentration camps in World War II. LGBT megadonor Tim Gill said of people like Phillips that he wants to “punish the wicked.”
While some may claim that the “Ban the Bible” branding is hyperbolic and dishonest, last year the California State Assembly considered a bill that would have muzzled orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality, banning books and counseling presenting the Christian views that gender identity should conform with biological sex and that sexual activity is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman.
In fact, Assembly Bill 2943 could have been used to outright ban sales of the Bible and other Christian books promising freedom from sin, which includes homosexual activity. While A.B. 2943 was eventually withdrawn, it demonstrated just how far SOGI policies can go.
Americans should remember the cases of Cochran, Walsh, and Phillips. Harris County voters should protest the commissioner court and make their voices heard. Failing that, they should remember this vote come Election Day.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.