Texas governor Greg Abbott signed into law Sunday a bill that protects pastors from being prosecuted for the contents of their sermons.
Gov. Abbott went to Grace Community Church in The Woodlands for the ceremonial signing of the "Sermon Safeguard Bill" or Senate Bill 24, together with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Grace Community senior pastor Steve Riggle. Also attending the event were other faith leaders in Texas.
The Sermon Safeguard Bill protects pastors from "from forced testimony" and "shields sermons from government subpoena power."
"Freedom of religion is the most sacred of our rights - it is what makes us America and is what gave our nation its start," Gov. Abbott said in a statement. "Efforts to erode religious liberty are a threat to all liberty, and our religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that religious freedom is beyond the reach of government."
"I am proud to sign this bill to shield our pastors' sermons from subpoena and their right to speak freely about their faith. As governor, I will always fight to preserve our religious liberty as Americans, and as Texans," the governor added.
The law takes effect immediately.
In 2014, the city of Houston subpoenaed sermons from five pastors in connection with the proposed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Riggle was among those who received the subpoena.
Gov. Abbott, who was then Attorney General, said the move from the city government was a direct assault on religious liberty. He wrote a letter to the city attorney, telling him to withdraw the subpoenas, as these are a violation of the First Amendment.
Last year, Lt. Gov. Patrick said the protection of religious liberty in the state is top priority.
"One of my top priorities is to protect our First Amendment right to religious liberty, something we particularly treasure during the holiday season," he said. "SB24 will give pastors critical protection from forced testimony and shield sermons from government subpoena power."
SB24 is not the only bill in Texas that protects religious liberty. House Bill 3859, filed earlier this year, would enable adoption agencies, especially the faith-based ones, to choose prospective adoptive parents without risking prosecution, according to CNN.
HB3859 is also called the "Freedom to Serve Children Act."
"HB 3859 protects the rights of the faith-based organizations to exercise their religious mission to serve others without fear of retaliation," bill author Rep. James Frank's office said in a statement to CNN.