Following the Supreme Court's decision to legalise same-sex marriage throughout the United States on Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered all agency heads in his state to prioritise the protection of religious liberty.
In a two-page memo dated June 26, Abbott reminded Texas agencies to always uphold the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that the government "shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.
He also cited Article I of the Texas Constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act where freedom to practice religion is enshrined.
"As government officials, we have a constitutional duty to preserve, protect, and defend the religious liberty of every Texan. With these obligations in mind, I expect all agencies under my direction to prioritise compliance with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article I of the Texas Constitution, and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act," Abbott said in the memo.
The Texas governor particularly said that state agency employees should not be punished if they refuse to take actions on account of their religious beliefs.
These actions include "granting or denying benefits, managing agency employees, entering or enforcing agency contracts, licensing and permitting decisions, or enforcing state laws and regulations."
"All state agency heads should ensure that no one acting on behalf of their agency takes any adverse action against any person, as defined in Chapter 311 of the Texas Government Code, on account of the person's act or refusal to act that is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief," Abbott said.
He also said that no one should be forced to violate his or her faith, particularly regarding marriage.
"The government must never pressure a person to abandon or violate his or her sincerely held religious beliefs regarding a topic such as marriage," the governor said.
Abbott spokesman John Wittman, however, explained that the governor's directive is not a defiance of the Supreme Court ruling legalising same-sex marriage.
"The Governor's directive does not authorise or order state agencies to deny benefits to same-sex couples. The directive ensures that individuals doing business with the state cannot be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs," Wittman said in a statement.