Texas Gov. Signs Bill Protecting Religious Freedom of Faith-Based Adoption Groups

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, U.S., June 6, 2017.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, U.S., June 6, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed a bill into law that prevents the government from punishing faith-based adoption agencies that operate their organizations in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Abbott signed House Bill 3859 into law on Thursday that seeks to protect religious child welfare agencies from being forced to provide services that go against their convictions.

"A child welfare services provider may not be required to provide any service that conflicts with the provider's sincerely held religious beliefs," read HB 3859 in part.

"A governmental entity or any person that contracts with this state or operates under governmental authority to refer or place children for child welfare services may not discriminate or take any adverse action against a child welfare services provider on the basis, wholly or partly, that the provider ... refuses to enter into a contract that is inconsistent with or would in any way interfere with or force a provider to surrender the rights created by this chapter."

HB 3859 goes on to note that should a faith-based child welfare agency refuse to provide a certain service, that the state must provide an alternative resource for the service.

"A governmental entity or any person that operates under governmental authority to refer or place children for child welfare services shall ... ensure that a secondary child welfare services provider is available in that catchment area to provide a service described by Subsection (a) to a child," continued HB 3859.

"[I]f there is an insufficient number of secondary services providers willing or available in that catchment area to provide that service, [the government shall] provide for one or more secondary services providers in a nearby catchment area."

Sponsored by Republican state Rep. James Frank, HB 3859 was filed in March and passed both houses of the legislature in May. 

HB 3859 was criticized by many progressive and LGBT activist groups that claimed the bill sanctioned discrimination against sexual and religious minorities.

An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that Abbott "will have blood on his hands" as a result of signing the bill into law.

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT lobbying group in the U.S., also denounced the passage of the bill, with the group's national field director Marty Rouse saying in a statement Thursday that Texas "has codified anti-LGBT discrimination into law."

"This law will now prioritize discrimination over the best interests of children looking for a loving, stable home. That is unconscionable," Rouse claimed.

For his part, Rep. Frank has rejected the discrimination claims. In a Facebook post in May, Frank said his legislation is anti-discriminatory, as it "seeks to protect faith-based providers from adverse actions for exercising their deeply held religious beliefs."

"At the same time, it requires the Department of Family and Protective Services to ensure alternative providers are present to offer any service denied for reasons of sincerely held religious beliefs," Frank said.

"Not one foster parent/family who wants to provide a home for our kids will be denied from doing so. Not one."

The bill also had the backing of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which in late May expressed their support for HB 3859 as a bill that "will maintain and expand a broad and diverse network of foster care providers."

"The children in the Texas child welfare system deserve the best we have to offer, yet without conscience protection, it is the children and families in crisis who suffer," stated the TCCB. 

"Conscience protections allow our faith-based providers to continue to be a safe and loving refuge for children in crisis and to accompany them on their journey to healing and wholeness, breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect one child at a time."

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