Now who’s messing with religious freedom?

What is Greg Abbott’s beef with faith organizations?

A prominent Texas faith organization signaled Friday that refugee resettlement agencies in the state may not comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to turn away Syrian refugees, writing a letter “to express shock and dismay” with the directive.

The governor’s order “constitutes an unprecedented attempt on the part of a state agency to pressure private, nonprofit organizations to violate federal law and their federal contractual obligations,” wrote Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, which works closely with resettlement agencies affiliated with religious institutions.

The letter asked the state to convene a meeting with resettlement agencies and federal authorities to clarify whether Abbott has the authority to issue such a directive.

Moorhead told the Houston Chronicle that among resettlement groups, “there seems to be some energy developing around convening them as a coalition to work on this issue.”

Moorhead’s letter came hours after the state’s top health official wrote refugee resettlement agencies in the state to say Texas was invoking its legal right to “require that you provide immediate and ongoing consultation with the Health and Human Services Commission Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) regarding any plans that may exist to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas.”

“If you currently have plans to participate in the resettlement of any Syrian refugee in Texas, please notify us immediately, but not later than 4:00 p.m. Friday, November 20, 2015,” executive health Commissioner Chris Traylor wrote, adding the agencies should discontinue those plans and “further, please notify us immediately if, in the future, you learn that a Syrian refugee is proposed for resettlement with your organization.”

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. The Statesman adds on.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office appears headed toward a legal showdown with refugee resettlement agencies and their sponsoring faith organizations over Abbott’s efforts to keep any Syrian refugees from resettling in Texas in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Following Abbott’s directive, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor on Thursday sent a toughly worded letter to 19 refugee resettlement agencies in Texas — including Caritas and the Refugee Services of Texas in Austin — asking that they scrap any plans to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas and that they notify his office by 4 p.m. Friday if they had any plans to resettle Syrians in the state.

Refugee resettlement is generally a federal matter done in cooperation with national and local nonprofit, often church-based, resettlement agencies. The states play a supportive role and pass federal money onto the local agencies.

However, in his effort to make good on his pledge to keep Syrian refugees from coming to Texas, Abbott, a former state attorney general, is relying on a section of the 1997 legislation authorizing the refugee resettlement program. It states that it is the intent of Congress that “local voluntary agency activities should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with state and local governments.”

Traylor cites that provision in his letter, and warns, “We reserve the right to refuse to cooperate on any resettlement on any grounds and, until further notice, will refuse to cooperate with resettlement of any Syrian refugees in Texas.”

“It’s a very disturbing effort by the state to coerce nonprofit organizations into ceasing the important services that they normally provide to vulnerable refugees to allow them to integrate into our community,” said Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

“The agency is seeking to force nonprofits to join the governor’s misguided policies that discriminate on the basis of national origin,” Gilman said. “Most disappointing of all is that those harmed will be families who have fled unspeakable violence in Syria, who have undergone a lengthy and cumbersome process to ensure that they present no threat, and who desperately need protection and support to recover some stability in their lives here in the United States.”

That’s religious nonprofits that Abbott is trying to coerce. At a time when for-profit corporations have been granted the right to impose the religious beliefs of their owners on their employees and when plaintiffs in a lawsuit who happen to be pastors getting subpoenaed is taken as an assault on freedom on religion. Again, this is Greg Abbott exerting government power to influence what religious organizations can do. I’m at a loss for words here. Thankfully, Lisa Falkenberg was able to find a few.

On issues like birth control, abortion and gay marriage, conservative politicians routinely charge into the fray like moral warriors, vowing to protect the sacred constitutional right to religious liberty.

Hobby Lobby. Kim Davis. They got your back.

But when it comes to a basic tenet of Christianity – caring for the stranger – the warriors have turned their swords against Scripture.

What would Jesus do, Greg? Feel free to ask a bishop if you need help with that.

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10 Responses to Now who’s messing with religious freedom?

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    The warriors were right about Hobby Lobby, but dead wrong about Kim Davis. In this instance, I think Abbot has a leg to stand on (no pun intended), as a public health issue. Remember the guy who brought Texas the ebola crisis? That was one guy, and look at what happened, and what could have happened. If we get even a few radicals with the refugees, look what could happen. Look what DID happen in Paris.

    Personally, I’d feel better if they were quarantined somewhere else, before resettling them here. And finally, would everyone be OK with deporting some illegal aliens to make room for these new refugees, who would be coming here legally? Would everyone be OK with putting some of our public (read: taxpayer funded) housing project residents out of those taxpayer funded apartments to make room for these refugees? If we were willing to do that, I’d be more inclined to support (literally and figuratively) taking some of the Syrian refugees.

  2. C.L. says:

    Let’s see… 100+ crazed bikers in Waco shooting up the joint, or a couple dozen hijab-clad widows settling in Temple/Belton/Waco/Killeen…, who’s the greater threat to the American way of life ?

  3. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    And remember what happened when we let the Irish in? Would you believe that some of them actually fought for Mexico? Ask the city of San Patricio where it got its name!
    Immigrants: bad for the Americas since 1492.

  4. Bill Daniels says:


    When the bikers rumble, they hurt each other. When extremist Muslims rumble, they blow up innocent people. Well, every once in a while they hit a legitimate military target, like the Ft. Hood shooter, but for the most part…..civilians.

    Then there’s the other thing no one really wants to talk about….that $ 19T and rising National Debt. We really can’t afford to bring in more people who will be dependent on the US taxpayers for support. We’ve got plenty of those already, and I don’t see them declining their welfare payments so the money can go to the Syrian refugees instead.

    Syria, like it or not, is a Russian client-state. It stands to reason that the refugees should go to Russia….they are Russia’s problem. Or we could apply a little common sense and send the refugees to countries that speak Arabic, that have cultural similarities with the Syrians, countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Iran, etc. I don’t see those countries stepping up to take these refugees. Why not? What do they (and Russia) know that we pretend we don’t know?

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    Edit: I realize Iranians primarily speak Farsi, but other than that, they have a more similar culture to assimilate to than we do.

  6. Ross says:

    @Bill, the Gulf states are nothing like Syria. The only real similarity is they are adherents of Islam and speak Arabic. And, there’s nowhere to put refugees in any of the Gulf states. Outside the cities, they are largely uninhabitable unless you are a bedouin and know how to live in the desert.

    Want to reduce the national debt? Quit spending close to a trillion dollars a year on stupid military tricks, like invading Iraq.

  7. Bill Daniels says:


    Totally agree with you about the unnecessary and disastrous Iraq war…..both of them. Kuwait should accepted Bin Ladin’s offer of help from the mujahidin, and gotten help from Saudi Arabia proper, as well. Had we stayed out of both conflicts, we’d be in much better shape as a country by now.

    That’s one of the few things I like about Bernie. He was firmly against the Iraq debacle.

  8. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    Immigration is generally economically beneficial in the US. Real wages rise, tax base grows, crime rate is independent of immigration volume, all of the bad things predicted by xenophobia during each wave of immigration historically have failed to materialize. All rigorous studies point that way. Here’s a discussion of one aspect of it:
    There are many others.

  9. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    Here’s a 2014 Cato Institute working paper on the topic of the fiscal impact of immigration:

    TLDR: immigration is good for business, and while its impact on government budget-balancing is dependent on a number of hard to pin-down elements, in general it’s likely to be neutral or marginally positive.

  10. Pingback: Texas threatens to sue religious groups over refugees – Off the Kuff

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