Faith

‘Freedom to Serve Children Act’ in Texas Brings Out the Knives

The Left cites abortion and LGBT rights as new legislation aims to 'maximize' those who can help kids

Can a Christian adoption agency require households that adopt children to consist of both a mom and a dad? Can a foster parent prevent a pregnant foster child from getting an abortion? These questions should have a clear answer — yet they’ve stirred up great controversy in Texas.

“Christian Homes & Family Services based in Abilene, for example, considers only prospective adoptive parents who attend church weekly and have been married for two years,” The Dallas Morning News reported. “Buckner International, based in Dallas, will consider single people on a case-by-case basis, but lets only couples married for four years or more become foster parents.”

“The foster parent can remain a foster parent without violating his or her religious convictions.”

Lawmakers in Texas have taken steps to ensure the government does not punish faith-based adoption and foster care service providers for acting in accordance with “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Meanwhile, the LGBT community has fired back — with a falsely painted narrative about the situation.

The “Freedom to Serve Children Act” (HB 3859) passed 93-49 in of the Texas House of Representatives this week. The legislation applies to both taxpayer-funded and privately run child welfare services. Among other provisions under consideration, the bill ensures that a child welfare service provider who “has declined or will decline to provide, facilitate, or refer a person for abortions, contraceptives, or drugs, devices, or services that are potentially abortion-inducing” won’t face adverse action.

“For example, if a foster parent has a religious objection to providing an abortion for a foster child, then this bill would permit the foster parent to refer the child to the state agency or to another provider to get the abortion,” Justin Butterfield, senior counsel at religious-freedom law firm First Liberty Institute, told LifeZette in a phone conversation. “So the foster parent can remain a foster parent without violating his or her religious convictions.”

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Essentially this “increases the number of paths available to children to be connected with adoptive families,” Butterfield said.

The religious protections also extend to providers who choose to send a child to a private or religious school.

Media outlets quickly saw the religious protections as “discrimination.” Consider these headlines: Teen Vogue’s “Texas Bill Would Ban Muslim, Jewish, and LGBTQ Families From Adoption”; and the AP’s “Texas House OKs Letting Adoption Groups Deny Non-Christians.”

Those headlines are clearly spun for their audiences.

“The Texas law takes nothing away from anyone,” Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, told LifeZette in an email. “It doesn’t prevent same-sex couples from adopting. It simply prevents any given agency from being penalized for not doing a same-sex adoption, if doing so would violate its beliefs.”

Anderson co-authored a new book just published by Oxford University Press, “Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination.”

Related: The Real Objectives of Trump’s Religious Liberty Order

There is no need to force adoption and foster care agencies to “embrace LGBT orthodoxy,” Anderson argued.

“No adoption agency should be penalized by the state because it works to find children homes with a married mom and dad,” Anderson added. “Shutting down agencies or disqualifying them from government programs because they believe kids deserve both a mom and a dad does nothing to help children in need. All it does is score a point for LGBT activists [who are] using children as pawns in their culture war.”

If a prospective parent is turned away from one adoption service, other agency choices are available. “It does not allow the providers to do whatever they want, but rather to say ‘no’ in very specific, limited circumstances,” the bill’s author, Rep. James Frank, a Republican, stated.

The bill “requires [Child Protective Services] to maintain a diverse network of homes and provides reasonable accommodations to those who are helping solve our foster care capacity crisis,” Frank said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Still, the LGBT community has pushed back against the legislation.

“It’s horrific that the Texas House would allow state-funded or private adoption agencies to use religious exemptions as a weapon to ban qualified LGBTQ families from adopting a child,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBT organization called GLAAD, said in an email to Teen Vogue.

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Is there really any reason to opposes such a bill? Groups such as the advocacy organization American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have heavily done so, stating the bill could harm children. “Discrimination in the name of religion has no place in our laws or in our state, and it certainly should not be used to harm children,” Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement.

“We’re further casting these children off. We’re making it more difficult for them to be adopted,” House Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat, stated.

First Liberty attorney Butterfield testified in relevant legislative committees on this topic. “A more accurate narrative would be the Freedom to Serve Children Act promotes inclusivity and diversity among adoption and foster care agency by ensuring that the government doesn’t discriminate against any of them,” Butterfield told LifeZette. “It protects religious liberty rights for people of all faiths and ensures that they don’t have to choose between following their faith and serving children.”

The legislation “avoids unnecessary litigation” and “ensures we maximize the number of families who can provide child welfare [and placement] services,” Butterfield also noted.

Other states (Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Alabama) have passed similar legislation, Butterfield said. At the federal level, related bills called the “Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act” have been introduced in the House and Senate.

In Texas, the bill must go through the Senate before it goes to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican.

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