Adoption and foster care are taking center stage in the latest conflict between LGBT equality and religious liberty.
In the Texas legislature, State Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) is proposing an amendment to the state’s Human Resources Code to protect faith-based child-welfare providers that deny services to same-sex individuals or couples as a matter of conscience.
The bill says the state “may not discriminate or take any adverse action” against a provider of child welfare who denies service based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Opponents of the measure say it would allow providers such as child placement agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples, non-Christians and unmarried foster or adoptive parents.
Frank, a member and deacon at First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, told the House state affairs committee March 29 that religious organizations provide about 25 percent of child welfare services in the state, and requiring them to work with LGBT families could drive many out of the child-welfare business.
“Increasingly there are organizations wholly unconnected to the child welfare services that are suing quality foster care service providers out of business for nothing more than the audacity to act on the beliefs that are different from the popular culture,” said Frank, an adoptive parent.
Randy Daniels, a vice president at Baptist-affiliated Buckner International, testified that the agency’s board has placed a moratorium on expansion of foster care and adoption and in the future might “move our resources into other kinds of ministries if we don’t get the protections” offered in the law.
The Texas Freedom Network counts the proposed legislation among 17 bills before the legislature using religious freedom as a smokescreen “to discriminate against LGBT people in virtually all aspects of their lives.”
“These religious refusal bills radically redefine a fundamental right by allowing religion as a justification to discriminate or refuse to obey laws you don’t like,” said Kathy Miller, president of the organization founded in 1995 to counter political influence of the Religious Right. She said the avalanche of proposed bills “essentially turn religion into a weapon to hurt people who are different or don’t share the same beliefs” as their authors.
Frank denied the bill will prevent same-sex couples from adopting or fostering.
“This bill does not restrict the ability of LGBT couples to adopt, as it does not impose religious conscience but allows it,” he said. “It simply protects the ability of those for whom those services may conflict with sincerely held religious beliefs to decline to do so safely.”
Rather than “a license to discriminate,” Frank said he believes the bill is actually “a license to participate in the foster care system” while allowing service providers to “say ‘no’ in very specific, limited circumstances.”
Daniels said Buckner has not been sued to date, but “other sister organizations across the country” have, and some have ceased offering services such as adoption and foster care rather than abide by regulations that go against their faith.
“With respect to placing children with same-sex couples, we don’t take a stand against it,” Daniels said. “We only ask that we also be allowed to live out our beliefs as we see them.”