First priority for this Muslim lawmaker from North Texas? Protecting religious freedom

Eleanor Dearman

State Rep. Salman Bhojani, a Euless Democrat who shares the title of first Muslim Texas representative, has introduced three bills that he believes will safeguard religious freedom.

Bhojani, who was elected in November, filed proposals Friday to expand the list of optional state holidays and to prevent state exams like the STAAR test from falling on religious holy days. A bill would also remove language specifying that Christian ministers and Rabbis can conduct marriage ceremonies, broadening the text to be more inclusive of all religions.

“Our nation was founded on the principles of liberty, justice and freedom,” Bhojani said at a Tuesday news conference. “Religious freedom is one of the most important and fundamental rights guaranteed to us in our constitution. It’s more than just the right to worship. It’s the right to dignity and autonomy for every person. It’s the right to openly express our faith and contribute to the spiritual richness of society.”

Bhojani represents House District 92, which includes part of Tarrant County. He and Fort Bend Democrat Rep. Suleman Lalani are Texas’ first South Asian state legislators and first Muslim state legislators.

“As one of the first Muslims sworn into the Texas Legislature, it is so important for me that my first pieces of legislation work to safeguard protections, not just for my faith, but for every faith in Texas,” Bhojani said.

He was joined at the news conference by religious leaders and fellow state lawmakers, including Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Richmond Republican who is Christian.

“These are steps forward to ensure that everyone from all backgrounds, all religious faiths, are able to worship here in Texas,” Jetton said.

House Bill 1882 adds All Saints Day, Diwali, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Passover, Vaisakhi and Vesak to the list of optional holidays for state employees. Employees could take the holidays as paid time off instead of certain other state holidays.

House Bill 1883 would prohibit state exams from being held on religious holy days, including All Saints Day, Christmas, Diwali, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Vaisakhi, Vesak and Yom Kippur.

House Bill 1884 amends state law to state that “a person who is authorized by a religious organization” can perform a marriage. Current law allows for that, Bhojani said, but the law specifically mentions Christian ministers and priests and Jewish rabbis.

‘”This language is trying to be very inclusive of all the faith leaders,” he said.