Molly White

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) filed a bill that, if passed, would allow private business owners to refuse business to people based on the owner’s religion or on “conscientious grounds.” 

HB 2553, filed Friday, would edit the State Business and Commerce code and prevent private business owners from being compelled to provide goods and services that are “in violation of that business owner’s sincerely held religious or personal beliefs.” It would also remove owner liability for refusing goods or service based on these same grounds.

White said the bill was a response to cases across the nation in which private business owners were sued after refusing to serve customers, citing a 2007 New Mexico case and 2013 Oregon case. 

In 2013, the owner of an Oregon cake shop refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and was fined for her actions. In another case, a New Mexico photographer refused to take commitment ceremony photos for same-sex couple Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth in 2007. New Mexico ruled the case as discriminatory.

“Certain small business owners, private business owners, are being sued for refusing service to people who violate their conscientious beliefs, their religious beliefs,” White said.  “We just want to put some protective measures here in our great state of Texas — giving private business owners religious liberties without fear.”

Rev. Michael Diaz from Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church said he believes the bill will undermine non-discrimination ordinances in Texas cities. Currently there are non-discrimination ordinances in Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, Plano, Houston and San Antonio. He said he is worried the bill’s vagueness will lend itself to discrimination of the LGBT community, single moms and ethic, racial and religious minorities, among other groups.

“It is troubling when we go back to the idea that the reason why we discriminate is because of religious freedom,” Diaz said. “If you want to discriminate, just call it discrimination. Don’t call it religious freedom.”

White said private business owners could refuse to provide services to those carrying concealed handguns, those who smoke in a business, or those who violate beliefs, such as those exemplified in the New Mexico and Oregon cases.

“Every individual has rights and liberties to serve whom they want to based on religious convictions,” White said. “That’s pretty much just trying to reinforce my belief system on that.”

White’s bill will encourage discrimination of LGBT community, according to Rogelio Meza, biology senior and Queer Students Alliance co-director. 

“The LGBT community will be greatly affected by this because, not only do we go through discrimination on a daily basis, but this bill is basically encouraging Texas to say, ‘Hey, discriminate, because we’re not going to do anything to you,’” Meza said.

White is no stranger to controversy this legislative session. White drew criticism for a Facebook status she posted Jan. 29 during Texas Muslim Capitol Day, an annual event hosted by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for Muslims to voice their legislative priorities and advocate for religious tolerance. In the status, White asked Muslim visitors to publicly pledge allegiance to the United States.

Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) said he believes this bill does not reflect Texas as a whole.

“This bill comes from the same freshman state representative who made national headlines during Muslim Day at the Capitol,” Rodriguez said in an email. “This type of legislation is hateful and does not reflect Texas values.”

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

State Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) filed a bill that, if passed, would allow private business owners to refuse business to people based on the owner's religion or on “conscientious grounds.” 

HB 2553, filed Friday, would edit the Texas Business and Commerce code, and, if passed, would prevent private business owners from being compelled to provide goods and services that are “in violation of that business owner’s sincerely held religious or personal beliefs.” It would also remove owner liability for refusing goods or services based on religious beliefs or conscientious grounds.

On Jan. 29, Texas Muslim Capitol Day, White posted a controversial Facebook status asking Muslim visitors to publicly pledge allegiance to the United States.

“I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” White wrote in a public Facebook post. “We will see how long they stay in my office.” 

Molly White perverts meaning of American way of life

Muslim students and community leaders walk away from the Capitol after a rally hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Thursday morning. Thursday marked the eighth annual Muslim Capitol Day.
Muslim students and community leaders walk away from the Capitol after a rally hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Thursday morning. Thursday marked the eighth annual Muslim Capitol Day.

On Thursday, state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, was not in Austin to celebrate Texas Muslim Capitol Day.  

Instead, she left her staff directions on how to handle visitors to the Capitol.  

"I did leave...with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws," White said via Facebook.  "If they come here and convert to the American way of life I may be more willing to trust. When they come here to advance their way of life, Islam, then no trust there." 

This begs the question of what exactly an "American way of life" looks life. It's been a few years since I've taken United States history, but wasn't our country founded upon the idea of freedom — both religious and ideological? It's attitudes like White' s that threaten to impede real progress at the Capitol, not to mention perpetuate the stereotype that Texas government and those who comprise it are stuck in the dark ages. She may represent one extreme opinion in the legislature, but it's an opinion that nonetheless taints the integrity of the representative system as a whole. I am ashamed and embarrassed that this type of behavior still exists.  

The sentiment expressed by the executive director of the Houston chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, Mustafaa Carroll, was one of alarm.  

"I'm more concerned with state leaders and what they say than I am about anybody else because they are the lawmakers," Carroll said.  

At no point during the day was any of the "Muslim extremism" that White alluded to displayed — in fact, participating Muslims sang "The Star Spangled Banner" (talk about a threat to national security) before they were interrupted by protesters yelling, “Islam is a lie!” and “No Sharia here!” Sadly, folks, this isn't an Onion article. This is real life and it's happening in our backyard.  

Berkeley is an associate editor.

Muslim students and community leaders walk away from the Capitol after a rally hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Thursday morning. Thursday marked the eighth annual Muslim Capitol Day.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

State Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) drew criticism Thursday after asking Muslim visitors to the Capitol to “renounce Islamic terrorist groups” during an event UT students helped plan. 

About 600 people attended Muslim Capitol Day, an annual event hosted by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to voice their legislative priorities and advocate for religious tolerance. 

Rep. White, who is out of town visiting her district, instructed her staff to tell Muslim visitors to publicly pledge allegiance to American law. 

“I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” White wrote in a public Facebook post. “We will see how long they stay in my office.” 

Government senior Usama Malik, vice president of UT’s Muslim Student Association, said Muslims should not have to work harder to prove their patriotism. 

“It’s kind of a double standard,” said Malik, who organized the event. “Seeing her comments [does] not really enrage us. It just shows us that we have a lot of work to do in this country, and that this attitude of having to apologize for the actions of others needs to end once and for all.”

Shiyam Galyon, who graduated from UT in 2012, traveled from Houston with the Syrian-American Council for the rally. Galyon said people of all religions should have the right to assemble and voice their opinions.

“When a group wants to organize for their rights, we want to support that,” Galyon said. 

While visitors from across Texas rallied for the seventh annual Muslim Capitol Day, protesters arrived holding signs with phrases such as, “Save America, Stop Islam,” and interrupted the rally speakers throughout the event. 

Rick Ellis, a protester at the rally from Axtell, Texas, said he thinks Muslims should not practice their religion in America.

“If they want to come as Americans, fine,” Ellis said. “If they want to come and live as Muslims, go back to the Middle East.”

Muslim Student Association President Rawand Abdelghani, psychology junior, said she was disappointed that the protesters interrupted the rally, which was meant to be peaceful.

“Most Muslims, especially the younger generation, were born in the U.S., and they consider themselves Americans and part of the community,” Abdelghani said. “It was meant to be an event that brought the community together and brought Muslims together, Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Malik, the event co-planner, said it is university students’ responsibility to address people’s ignorance about Islam. 

“It’s now imperative for us to take this to another level and defend Islam from these types of things,” Malik said. “Because we understand where the hatred is coming from and what the types of ignorance are — in light of this country’s history — and how to combat that.”

State Rep. Molly White wants all Muslim visitors to pledge allegiance to American laws

State Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) said she wanted all Muslim visitors to renounce terrorism in a Facebook post Thursday.
State Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) said she wanted all Muslim visitors to renounce terrorism in a Facebook post Thursday.

State Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) said any Muslims who visit her office should be required to renounce Islamic terrorism and publicly pledge allegiance to American laws, according to a Facebook status White posted Thursday.

"Most members including myself are back in District," White wrote. "I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office."

Thursday marks the seventh-annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day, sponsored by the Texas branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

According to an event description on CAIR Texas’ website, the goal of the day is to provide “an opportunity for community members to learn about the democratic political process and how to be an advocate for important issues.”