Several Greater Houston-area lawmakers have joined forces in attempts to pass legislation they said would help protect homeowners’ religious freedom.
State Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, filed his first bill of the 87th Texas Legislature on Feb. 3. House Bill 1569 would prevent homeowners associations from removing religious displays from a resident's property.
"No one has a right to tell you that you cannot worship at your own home," he said in a statement. "Preventing someone from having a religious symbol on their own lawn is an infringement on freedom that is positively un-Texan, and it must stop."
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, filed a similar companion bill, Senate Bill 581, alongside Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, on Feb. 4.
"Homeowners should never have to sign away their first amendment rights to an HOA, and this bill protects religious liberties in Texas," Creighton said in a statement.
While there is already a state law that prevents HOAs from removing religious displays from a homeowner’s front door, Schofield said his bill clarifies HOAs do not have the authority to remove religious displays from any part of a homeowner’s property.
"The bottom line is simply that if a homeowner wants to display a nativity scene, put a cross or menorah on their door, or exercise their religious freedom, whatever their religion might be, a homeowners association should not have the right to prevent that," Bettencourt said in a statement.
Both the House and Senate bills state homeowners are not permitted, however, to have religious displays that threaten public safety, violate a law or contain content “that is patently offensive to a passerby for reasons other than its religious content.”
According to a press release, some of Schofield’s constituents asked him to file the bill after they said their HOAs had demanded they remove crosses from their lawns around Easter.
Similar bills have been filed by the lawmakers in recent years, although none have made it through both state legislative chambers to become law. Schofield in 2017 authored House Bill 522 and House Bill 56 during the regular and special sessions of the 85th Texas Legislature, respectively, with neither reaching a full House vote. In the same year, the Bettencourt- and Kolkhorst-authored SB 1609 passed through the Senate but did not reach a full House vote.
During the 86th legislative session in 2019, Bettencourt's Senate Bill 227 did not reach the committee stage, and House Bill 2302, authored by Reps. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, and Drew Springer, R-Muenster, did not reach a full House vote.