Legislation currently on the desk of Texas Governor Rick Perrywould protect the freedom of Jewish homeowners to follow the Torah’s injunction to “write [these words] upon the doorposts of thy house and on thy gates.”
Perry’s office has not indicated how exactly the governor will decide on the issue, but if he signs the bipartisan bill into law, homeowners associations would be forbidden from prohibiting the display of a mezuzah – the box-encased scroll of parchment affixed to doorposts in keeping with a positive commandment mentioned twice in the Book of Deuteronomy – or other religious item.
“This bill is very much important,” said Rabbi Yosef Levertov, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Austin. “Now people can keep this aspect of the Torah without any fear of interference from their neighbors.”
First drafted in 2009 as H.B. 3025, H.B. 1278 comes in response to the case of a Houston husband and wife who in 2007 were asked to remove their mezuzah from their apartment’s entryway or face fines. The condominium association claimed the display was against regulations.
They brought suit, and after a failed hearing in a U.S. District Court, their lawyer contacted their state representative, Garnet Coleman.
“When I looked at the situation, I immediately said it’s wrong,” the legislator told the Jewish Herald-Voice in 2009. “Our country is founded on religious freedom, the freedom to practice the religion of your choice without impediments.”
While the word “mezuzah” is not mentioned in the bill’s text, it allows for one or more religious items of no more than 25 square inches – large enough for a typical mezuzah – to be displayed on the entry door or doorframe.
“I filed this bill to extend religious freedom in situations where it may not exist,” explained Coleman.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, who sponsored the bill, said his choice to get involved was a simple one.
“Religious expression is a cornerstone of our freedom and American citizenship,” he said. “If we do not respond to the infringement of the rights of one family, we endanger the rights of all families.”
State Reps. Scott Hochberg and Debbie Riddle joined Coleman in authoring the current bill. It passed both the State House of Representatives and the Senate and is now waiting to be reviewed by the governor.
“The governor thoroughly reviews every bill that he receives,” said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. “He will make a decision when he reviews the bill.”
Similar legislation became law in Illinois and Florida in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
Coleman was optimistic his bill would likewise be signed into law.
“Thanks to this family’s courage and willingness to share their story,” he said, “other Texans will not have to go through a similar experience.”