Strengthen Freedom of Conscience: Testimony in Support of SB 247

My name is Rachana Chhin, and I am a licensed Texas attorney and Legislative Counsel of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops testifying in support of SB 247. 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 247 prohibits any rule or policy adopted, or penalty imposed, from: limiting an applicant’s ability to obtain a license to practice law, or a state bar member’s ability to maintain or renew a license, based on a sincerely held religious belief, burdening their free exercise of religion, freedom of speech regarding a sincerely held religious belief, membership in a religious organization, or freedom of association. We support this bill to the protect conscience rights of legal professionals.

The TCCB’s perspective on this bill is informed by our faith and experience in ministry, including in charitable legal services for the poor and vulnerable, immigrants and refugees, and trafficking survivors, among others.  We join Pope Francis, who recently decried regression in freedom of conscience. He said, “Today, we Christians have the danger that some governments will take away our freedom of conscience, which is the first step toward freedom of worship. […] Freedom of conscience and religious freedom – which is not limited to freedom of worship alone, but allows all to live in accordance with their religious convictions – are inseparably linked to human dignity.”

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, there is an alarming trend in jurisdictions to codify the ABA’s Model Attorney Misconduct Rule 8.4(g) that would subject attorneys to professional discipline for merely engaging in speech that another might find “derogatory,” “demeaning,” or “harmful.” Apart from its overbreadth and vagueness, the Texas Attorney General  stated that rules like 8.4(g) could restrict attorneys from freely participating in religious organizations that hold traditional viewpoints and an attorney’s freedom to associate with political, social, or religious legal organizations. In contrast, SB 247 would codify conscience protections for lawyers to preempt these concerns. For the foregoing reasons, we respectively request you vote for SB 247.