HAF Opposes Texan Efforts to Curtail Anti-Discrimination Laws

Austin, TX (February 17, 2016) - Leaders of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) joined civil rights and faith-based groups in testifying against the Texas Senate’s attempts to weaken religious anti-discrimination laws.

A Texas Senate committee held hearings on whether the state could carve out exemptions for businesses and individuals to claim religious freedom in order to deny services to LGBT community members. The attempts have been backed by the state’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as Evangelical Christian groups.

HAF joined representatives of the Texas Freedom Network, the ACLU, Anti-Defamation League, and Sikh Coalition to call for the state to uphold and strengthen anti-discrimination laws so that businesses and individuals cannot claim their religion to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. They were also supported in their effort by State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston).

Murali Balaji, HAF’s Director of Education and Curriculum Reform, testified before the Senate committee, noting that weakening religious discrimination laws would make the Hindu community more vulnerable to harassment and bias.

“Hindus who come to Texas often face harassment or coercion from Christian groups urging them to convert in exchange for food or jobs,” he said, pointing out the widespread coercive attempts by Evangelicals to convert Bhutanese Hindu refugees across the state. “No one should feel the need to convert to a religion for basic necessities. This is a daily reality for Hindu Texans, and one we hope the Senate committee considers as it examines the consequences of religious discrimination. Religious discrimination affects our communities, which is why anti-discrimination laws are vital. That's why weakening or trying to find exemptions in these laws undermines our rights as religious minorities.”

Balaji also noted the results of a HAF national survey, in which Hindu students reported being bullied and harassed because of their religion. The survey was prompted in part by a 2013 incident in Humble, in which two Hindu students were repeatedly harassed without any intervention from school officials. The two young boys were shoved, called names, and threatened for months, even after the children's parents filed complaints and met with school officials. One was beaten up, and then held down while a gang of boys partially shaved off his eyebrow. The other was taunted as “a terrorist.”

Other civil rights leaders echoed the need to make sure religious liberty preserved the right to practice one’s religion freely, not the right to discriminate.

“Texans are justifiably proud of our tradition of religious liberty, but that tradition has never meant that people have the right to opt out of laws they don’t like on the basis of their personal religious beliefs,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas.

“I am concerned when the takes actions that appear to endorse one religion over all others,” added Jared Lindauer, attorney for the Anti-Defamation League of Austin. “Such actions create the potential for divisiveness and can make people of minority faiths feel like outcasts in their own communities.”