The Republican-held Texas house passed a bill on Wednesday that would create legal protections for state-funded adoption and foster care agencies that reject on religious grounds families who are not Christian, heterosexual, or married.
HB 3859, sponsored by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), would prohibit the state or any state contractors from taking “adverse action” against a child welfare services provider that declines to provide a child-care service that conflicts with their religious beliefs.
Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement that “discrimination in the name of religion” has no place in the Texas legal system.
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“There are currently 22,000 children awaiting placement in Texas and last year alone, 252 children died of abuse and neglect in our broken CPS system,” Robertson said. “It is shocking that the Texas House would respond to this crisis by prioritizing the personal religious beliefs of providers over the best interests of the children in the state’s care.”
The “Freedom to Serve Children Act” is among a growing number of religious imposition bills introduced by state lawmakers. Critics claim these measures allow discrimination against marginalized people under the guise of “religious freedom.”
Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, said in a statement that the HB 3859 “goes too far and beyond reasonable accommodation.”
“In the end, this was not about religious freedom,” Smith said. “When children are removed from their families because of neglect or abuse, the State has an obligation to place them in homes based on the children’s needs and the prospective family’s ability to meet those needs, not on the religious beliefs of the agency hired by the State to find them homes.
Randy Daniels, vice president of child and family services for the Dallas-based Christian child welfare organization Buckner International, told the Associated Press that religiously affiliated organizations need protections from lawsuits.
“We want to make sure we can practice within the framework of our sincerely held religious beliefs,” Daniels said.
Buckner Children and Family Services, which receives state funding, provides services based on “Christ-centered values” and only accepts Christian heterosexual couples who have been married for at least four years.
HB 3859 was passed along largely party lines in a 93-49 vote, with three Democrats joining Republican lawmakers in voting for the bill. The bill now heads to the Republican-majority state senate.