On Thursday, June 15, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbot signed House Bill 3859 into law, protecting religious rights for faith-based adoption groups in state child welfare programs.
The new law will allow faith-based groups that work with the Texas child welfare system to deny services, including foster placement and adoption, under any circumstances that “conflict with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Critics of the bill, including Democrats and civil rights groups, claim the bill will allow private, faith-based child welfare groups to discriminate against parents who are of a different religion or who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
There are currently more than 30,000 children in the foster care system in Texas. Many children in the state age out of the system “more damaged than when they entered,” said one federal judge in a ruling that Texas violated the constitutional rights of foster children. After exiting the system, many former foster children face homelessness, drug addiction, unemployment, and incarceration.
Proponents of the new law, including the bill’s sponsor, Representative James Frank, say the law will help children find homes.
Frank said the purpose of the Freedom to Serve Children law is to get more people working in child welfare. Rather than exclusion, the law is designed to offer protection to prospective foster and adoptive parents and child welfare workers who have been discriminated against for their religious believes.
Frank and other supporters of the bill have said the result should be an increase in foster homes by the end of the year to address the shortage of foster homes as well as adoptive families in Texas.
Texas joins several other states that have passed faith-based protective adoption agency laws, including Alabama, Michigan, North Dakota, Virginia, and South Dakota, which passed a similar law this year.