COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The student senate at Texas A&M University on Wednesday approved a bill that allows students to opt out of paying fees that fund the school’s LGBTQ campus center based on religious grounds.
The Religious Funding Exemption Bill — formerly known as the GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill — was approved by a vote of 33-30.
Prior to the vote, student senators heard impassioned pleas and arguments from an overflow crowd that packed the chamber, as a majority of students present testified in opposition to the measure, according to the student paper, The Battalion.
The measure is designed to allow students to choose not to pay portions of their student fees to specific university services that conflict with their religious beliefs.
The bill’s title was changed and its language altered as to broaden its scope 24 hours prior to the senate session. Critics charge that even with those changes, there was only one targeted purpose for the legislation, defunding the LGBT center.
The GLBT Resource Center receives about $100,000 a year in funding provided by student fees, an average contribution of approximately $2 per student.
Thomas McNutt, a senior political science major and one of the bill’s principal authors said the goal of the bill is to use existing systems to ensure the religious freedom of every student.
“Texas A&M already allows [students to opt-out for religious reasons],” McNutt said. “And look, we are doing just fine. Nobody knew that they already allow it, so what we are asking for in this bill is for there to be a clear, advertised process.”
“The Religious Funding Exemption bill is a facade to deprive GLBT students of resources to create a safe environment,” said Andrew Lupo, an openly gay student who spoke in opposition to the bill. “I see so many of you, you’re young — 18 and 19 years old– and there is a great future for you. Is this how you want to begin your career — by attacking your own Aggies, your own community?”
The debate has polarized the university which is seen as a traditionally conservative school since the measure’s introduction at the beginning of the spring term. The 2012 Princeton Review’s “LGBT-unfriendly” list ranked Texas A&M as the seventh least-friendly LGBT public university nationwide.
The bill now goes to student body president John Claybrook, who has not indicated if he will sign or veto the measure.
While it remains unclear whether the bill is actually enforceable, the Texas state legislature is considering a similar measure.
GOP state Rep. Bill Zedler has filed an amendment to the state’s appropriations bill to cut funding for public universities that have “Gender and Sexuality Centers and Related Student Centers.” Zedler’s amendment claims that LGBT centers promote high risk behaviors.