LUBBOCK, Texas (CN) — A Republican state senator claims a new American Bar Association rule barring attorneys from gender discrimination “has caused fear in attorneys all over Texas who have faith in God.”
State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for a nonbinding advisory opinion on the ABA’s Model Ethics of Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(g). The rule deems it professional misconduct for a lawyer to “engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of … sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law,” Perry wrote in his Monday letter to Paxton.
On Tuesday, Perry issued a press release stating: “The rule suggests that if an attorney is part of a legal organization that stands against same-sex marriage or transgender policies, the attorney could lose their license.”
In his letter to Paxton, Perry said: “The amendment could open doors to punish lawyers
who express views contrary to the ABA with regard to religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity ‘both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs.'” (Citing the preamble to the Model Rules.)
In his 3-page letter to Paxton, Perry asks whether lawyers could be disciplined or disbarred for “challenging the merits of same-sex marriage” during a legal education class; or for “being part of a legal association that holds religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman and that a person’s gender is fixed at birth?”
In his press statement, Perry said the proposed rule violates the First Amendment, which “grants us freedom of religion – not freedom from religion.”
The ABA’s model rules are not binding, but they do heavily influence professional conduct rules in many states, including Texas.
“The State Bar of Texas currently has anti-discriminatory rules on the books regarding prejudice based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, age, sex, or sexual orientations,” Perry said in his press release. “However, if the State Bar of Texas adopts this same rule, it could open doors to punish lawyers who express views contrary to the State Bar with regard to religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
Perry warned that the rule will “trickle down” to law schools, and that new lawyers may become reluctant to express their religious beliefs or associate with certain religious organizations.
“Could a lawyer who is an atheist and criticizes religion in a legal education class be subject to discipline or disbarment?” Perry asked. “Could an elected official, who is also an attorney, be subject to discipline or disbarment for debating proposed laws regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or socioeconomic status?”
The ABA did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment late Wednesday evening.
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