My name is Jennifer Allmon, and I am the Executive Director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops testifying in support of SB 581. The Texas bishops support religious liberty especially as it pertains to human life, marriage, and the family, as well as supporting conscience protection for individuals and organizations.

SB 581 seeks to protect religious speech and property rights by limiting a Homeowners Association's ability to order homeowners to remove religious displays on their property. It would maintain exceptions for displays that threaten public health or safety, that violate a law or contain language, graphics; or a display that is patently offense for reasons other than its religious content. We support this bill to protect the religious liberty rights of homeowners.

The TCCB’s perspective on this bill is informed by our faith. Religious liberty is our first liberty and one of our most cherished freedoms. While religious freedom is not absolute, it is the first freedom because if we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile. Yet, religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or to pray the Rosary in private. We join Pope Francis, who has often spoken on the importance of religious liberty. He said, “Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families.”

The U.S. bishops state that religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government, let alone a homeowners association, to express their faith at their home. We thank Senator Bettencourt for filing SB 581, and we look forward to its swift passage.